The RWBY Wizard

*My mid-term paper for Public Rhetoric. I’m posting this entirely for the hell of it. In case you are wondering, I made an 88% with the comment that I needed to use relate this to our course readings*

The RWBY Wizard, Monty Oum: a personal journey in Fandom Rhetoric

                   I was not a fan of anime when I was first introduced to the genre in 2010. I found the voice-acting to be annoying at best, the archetypes and tropes to be stereotypical and dramatic, and the plots to be ridiculous and full of holes. That all changed when my friend introduced me to a new web-series created by Monty Oum for an American entertainment company called Rooster Teeth in 2013.

            RWBY (pronounced Ruby) was first launched by Rooster Teeth with the release of the “Red” trailer on November 5, 2012. The following “White”, “Black”, and “Yellow” trailers were released throughout the following year. Each trailer introduced one of the four female protagonists that form team RWBY; a team-name derived from the first letter of each of the girls: Ruby, Wiess, Blake, and Yang. Unlike most trailers that use pre-existing clips from the movie or show being promoted, the RWBY trailers are all self-contained, stand-alone, shorts that serve to introduce the characters, style, and premise of the show. I viewed both the “Red” and “White” trailers in Spring of 2013.  I was captivated by the cohesive color scheme, the incredible music (composed by Jeff Williams), the impressive animation style focused on action and movement, and the dark-fairytale vibrations the two trailers provoked. The show had not even been released yet, but I knew I would be a fan.

            RWBY was first pitched to Rooster Teeth by Monty Oum when the animator was still working on the web-series Red vs Blue and was granted permission to pursue his own show once he finished the tenth season. Unlike Red vs Blue, a show based on the popular Halo video game, the series Oum pitched was an entirely original concept inspired by fairytales and myths. Taking place in the world of Remnant, young hunters train to protect citizens from the shadowy monsters, evil creatures called grim. There are many differences in the plot, inspirations, and stylings between the two shows, though both shows have been commercially successful for Rooster Teeth. Red vs. Blue, launched in 2003, stayed true to the videogame origin in both style and plot. Featuring a predominantly male cast, the war-time plot, and video-game style of animation the show appealed to a male-centered demographic. Alternatively, RWBY features a predominately female cast, a fantasy plot, and Japanese-anime inspired animation which has opened the company’s audience to female viewership (Rooster Teeth, RT Demographic).

            Personally, the female-based casting is one of my biggest draws to the show. One of my biggest complaints against animated shows was that female characters were often reduced to insulting, unrealistic stereotypes that revolved around their male counterparts. In shows like Red vs. Blue female characters are virtually nonexistent or placed in stereotyped roles such as the “love interest”, “damsel in distress”, or the “tomboy/butch character”. Rather than conforming to this norm, Monty Oum created an action-based show that featured girls as the main heroes. The title team, RWBY, is comprised of four girls, each with their own unique personas and motivations Even the primary villain of the show is female- giving the whole series a comprehensive view of female characters. I believe that this was a deliberate choice made by the creator Monty Oum as the female-heavy casting opens doors for many female-viewers. As each character is also given a distinctive look, personality, and fighting styles, comparing the weapons and fighting styles of various characters in role-play style stats and mock battles is finally something women can do while representing their own gender. Analyzing character origins and predicting characters’ fates is something girls can finally join in on without male-mockery of “not understanding how male-hero archetypes work”.  Finally, girls can cosplay as any of the unique, powerful, inspirational characters without having to “gender-bend” or choose from limited selection. What hooked me, and thousands of other fans, was Monty Oum’s creation of an anime that girls could enjoy and relate to.

            To comprehend what a unique phenomenon RWBY is, it is important to know more about the company and the man responsible for it’s creation. Most popular series are created by multi-million-dollar entertainment corporations with seemingly endless supplies of writers, animators, producers, and money. Rooster Teeth is not one of these companies, but this independent content-focus is a large part of the company’s appeal. Monty Oum, for example, was drawn to Rooster Teeth because they weren’t like the other major corporations. After working with major names like Midway Games and Namco Bandai Games, Oum was fed-up with how these large companies ran their business. In 2010, after meeting with one of Rooster Teeth’s founders Burnie Burns the pervious year, it was announced that Oum would be joining the smaller, but more flexible, Rooster Teeth team (Wikipedia, Oum).

            It was Monty Oum’s groundbreaking techniques in combat animation that made him to valuable to the animation team. Oum, known for being close to his fans, began as a fan himself. Oum was a self-taught animator who began by making fan-videos from games and shows he enjoyed. By 2007, Oum discovered reverse engineering techniques that allowed him to create his own animations using characters from several franchises (Wikipedia, Oum). It was his fan-work that brought him acclamation in the animation world due to its quality animation and unique style. His skill at action sequences and realistic movement in his fan-work is what eventually brought him to Rooster Teeth. Before his work on Red vs. Blue, the military-sci-fi show focused mostly on story-telling and humor rather than combat. It was Monty’s expertise in choreographed animation that allowed the show to include more visually appealing action. This specialty is what Oum the nickname “The Wizard” in the animation world, and it is one of the many reason’s why Oum’s original show RWBY gained such notoriety upon release. Even with Rooster teeth’s limited production team and budget, Oum’s skill in animation shines through in his show.

            Oum began as a fan, moved toward show-animator, and finally came full-circle to original creator. Monty Oum was known for being welcoming and considerate of his fans, perhaps because he began as a fan himself. He is quoted by New York Times as creating character’s who wear bags or costumes to make cosplay easier on his fans (Ryzik 1) and posted pictures of fan’s cosplays on his personal Twitter stating that seeing people cosplay his characters gave him “squishy feelings” (Oum, Twitter).  These warm, and often humorous interactions with the fan community made thousands fans of both Oum’s talents, but also his fun-loving nature.

The warm, receptive behavior toward fans shown by Oum is indictive of the Community nature of the Rooster Teeth company. Close interaction with their fans is one of the key ingredients to their success. According to one of the founders, Gus Solora: “From the beginning we have always maintained and promoted our own community site, since before YouTube even existed”. Building community is key to having an engaged, active audience who really enjoy your content”. Being such a small, independent content creator, Rooster Teeth relies on their fan-community to keep them going, in fact, another founder, Burnie Burns states that roughly a third of the company’s current staff came from the fan community (Konow, Crowdfunding Success). Fans of shows, such as RWBY have helped Rooster Teeth to expand with their viewership on their website and on other streaming services. On their website fans can subscribe for free to watch their favorite shows, or they can enroll for a paid membership through a sponsorship called “first” which grants members earlier access to shows, and discount merchandise. To further fan access, Rooster Teeth posts episodes on YouTube where they have 9 million subscribers and over 5 billion views (Wikipedia RWBY) with RWBY being one of their main attractions.

Rooster Teeth’s dedication to their fan-base appeals to many fans, including myself. This rhetoric of being part of an interactive community makes fan’s feel just as part of the creation process as the creators themselves. Unlike large media empires, like the one’s Oum worked for previously, fans of Rooster Teeth feel as if they are supporting real people on projects that matter to both viewer and creator. As a paying “frist” member, I feel like my sponsorship of $5 a month goes to help a company create content for the world to enjoy, and not to help a multi-millionaire buy a fourth vacation home. The responsiveness of the company to their fans adds a human aspect to the web-based community. It is that human aspect that allowed the team to launch and maintain a an original series, RWBY, on it’s small budget. Rooster Teeth branded themselves as a company that cares about their fans, and in return, their fans care about them.

Oum’s RWBY was a hit from it’s release in 2013. After a successful first and second volume in which Oum served as creator, director, lead animator, and a voice actor, a third volume went into production in 2015. It was during the production of the third volume, on Janurary 22nd, that Monty Oum went into a routine medical procedure and suffered a severe allergic reaction. On January 30, 2015 Burnie Burns released an official statement of Oum’s unknown condition and opened a donation page for his friend and colleague. Fan’s from around the world showed their support for the creator and animator through raising $150, 000 in 24 hours. Unfortunately, fan support was not enough. On February 1, 2015 Oum passed away.

The death of Monty Oum was deeply felt by the company and fans. In the official statement made by Rooster Teeth on the website the Rooster Teeth team expressed their grief at the death of their friend, their thanks for the care and support shown by fans, and asked: “in lieu of flowers and gifts, we ask that you simply do something creative. (Matt, 2260024)” Fan’s answered this call with great zeal. Tribute posts, art, writing, and videos from fans and fellow creators appeared in mass numbers online and in other media. Far from being forgotten, three years later his official death announcement continues receiving comments, the most recent having been written 2 weeks ago.

I remember when the friend who introduced me to RWBY told me about Oum’s death. I was reluctant to believe the news, as it was so unexpected. At this point, I was a fan, but still considered a casual observer. I watched the show upon their release, but I was not an avid follower of Roosterteeth, or Monty Oum’s posts. I admired The Wizard’s work, but I didn’t pretend to know much about the man himself. My admiration of Monty Oum as an artist would continue to grow after becoming more familiar with his work and his legacy.  I was still a mid-level fan upon Oum’s death, but I did wander what the fate of the show I enjoyed would be without the creator.

Oum’s death was not the end of his brain-child RWBY. Volume 3 was underway, and the team had an idea of Oum’s vision for the rest of the show. As a touching tribute to the Wizard, the volume began with birds flying off into a sunrise forming Oum’s signature. Though Oum has passed away, the Volumes released since his death still credit him as the original creator. The team continues to use Oum’s animation style and character designs, and Monty Oum’s brother Neath continues to voice the character, Lie Ren, who was voiced by Monty in the first two volumes. Since Monty Oum’s death RWBY volumes 3, 4, and 5 have been released. An informative between-season filler called World of Remnant has been created to explain more about the fantasy’s lore, and an enjoyable spin-off mini-series called RWBY Chibi is currently in its third season. Rather than halting at Oum’s death, RWBY continues to grow as a credit to its creator.

It is now 2018. I have been watching and enjoying the show for several years now. My appreciation of the show has continued to grow. I am now a paying FIRST member of the Roosterteeth community, and a proud owner of RWBY merchandise. I see the RWBY fandom continue to expand and grow from it’s humble origins as the secondary show of a small entertainment company to its own domain. RWBY now has its own wiki-page, YouTube theorists, tags on fanfiction sites, and pin-boards on Pinterest. My enjoyment of the show has broadened by horizon’s to a wider appreciation for anime as a whole. Now, 3 years after his passing, my appreciation of Oum has vastly deepened as my understanding of the animation process, and my interaction with the fan community has increased. By comparing RWBY to other anime’s I could see Oum’s skill as both an animator and story creator. I could see how unique and impressive his choreographed fighting sequences were, and how well-executed his story is. By reading more about Oum from his fans I learned how kind and connected he was to his supporters. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him before his death.

While I cannot say that being a fan of RWBY has profoundly impacted my life, I can say with great honestly that the show has brought me joy, entertainment, and “squishy feelings”. I intend to continue following team RWBY has they save the world of Remnant and thank the Wizard Monty Oum for creating a wonderful female-powered story for fans to enjoy, and Roosterteeth for continuing to create, post, and share the show for us all to enjoy.

Works Cited:

Cohen, Joshua. “Rooster Teeth: Insights From A Very Successful Entertainment Company”.

TubeFilter. Retrieved April 12, 2014.

 

Fan Poll. “RT Demographic.” Rooster Teeth, Rooster Teeth, 2016, roosterteeth.com/forum/the-

 

basement/topic/2260064.

 

Konow, David. “Rooster Teeth’s Burnie Burns On Why Massive Crowdfunding Success

Shouldn’t Hurt Its Brand”. http://www.indiewire.com. IndieWire. Retrieved March ,2018.

 

Matt. “Monty Oum Has Passed Away.” Rooster Teeth, Feb. 2015,

roosterteeth.com/post/3302319.

 

Oum, Monty. “Monty Oum Twitter.” Twitter, 1 Nov. 2014, twitter.com/montyoum?lang=en

 

Ryzik, Melena. “An Animator’s Death Releases a Flood of Sadness.” New York Times, 4 Feb.

2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/arts/monty-oum-dies-at-33-and-his-fans-

grieve.html.

 

Image Citation:

Nijuuni. “Tribute to Monty Oum.” Diviantart.com, Nijuuni, 2015, Diviantart.com,

nijuuni.deviantart.com/art/RWBY-Tribute-to-Monty-Oum-511395670. Touching tribute

by a fan in remembrance of Monty OUm

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