This Fall may bring to mind scarves and pumpkins to the average person but RWBY fans know it can only mean one thing: the premiere of Volume 5. For those unfamiliar, fellow RWBY enthusiast Willie Young has an excellent summary of volumes 1 to 3, but let’s just say after a rough start this action-packed American-made anime has certainly earned an excited following.
Back in July it was announced that the season would start on October 14 but to be honest, while beautiful, Weiss Schnee’s character short didn’t tell us much more than we already knew coming out of volume 4; TLDR, Weiss sucked at Summoning, now she doesn’t. All of that changes with Rooster Teeth’s recent character short featuring Blake Belladonna:
Sweet Bast look at all the dark skinned characters!!! For all the racial allegories Faunus seemed to be meant to invoke, RWBY has always struggled to really convey an understanding of the impacts of racism beyond a general sort of “they bully us and we’re angry about it” sentiment rather than structural implications (yes, I think even Weiss’ early prejudice was undercut by its unbelievably easy resolution). It doesn’t help that our two main examples of Faunus are an unbelievably pale cat girl and a blue-eyed blonde boy, or that the group most concerned with Faunus civil rights, the White Fang, are basically a terrorist group for the majority of the time in which the series takes place. I’m sure there’s some poignant comparisons to revolutionary leaders buried somewhere if you squint hard enough, but sympathetic figure Adam Taurus is not.
Ilia’s story is not only important coming from the mouth of someone visibly darker than literally all of our main characters, but that it plays upon her nature as a chameleon to comment on real world ideas of passing privilege. I mean, “But why fight when I pass for human?” Talk about a haunting question. In just five minutes we get an excellent explanation about how prejudice impacts upward mobility (especially generationally), how passing privilege can lead to a rejection of your culture and the growth of your own internalized prejudice, and the importance of code switching to retaining your identity in an environment where your culture is underrepresented (“and absolutely, under no circumstances, was I allowed to change colors”).
I’m really hoping that the political climate of 2016 and 2017 has made a deep impact on the production staff in the same way it has for the wider artistic community, especially since Rooster Teeth doesn’t have the kinds of censorship worries that television-based releases do. I’m not going to pretend that watching the oppression of genetically altered humanoids is going to make a dent in the minds of bigots (if that were true X-Men would have certainly prevented the Apocalypse that is America’s current government). But if this short is any indication, there could definitely be a potential to break down complex concepts like privilege and intersectionality for younger audiences.
You can binge watch the entire first four seasons of RWBY on Rooster Teeth’s channel here.