Variety sat down with Gray G. Haddock, head of Rooster Teeth Animation and supervising producer of “RWBY,” writer/director Kerry Shawcross, and co-writer/director Miles Luna, to talk about the upcoming season, the show’s history, and the debate over whether the franchise constitutes bona-fide anime.
“RWBY,” set in the magical world of Remnant, follows the adventures of four girls — Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang — who have trained to be Huntresses to fight hordes of evil monsters (the “Creatures of Grimm”) bent on destroying Remnant’s kingdoms. Volume 5, which debuts on Rooster Teeth’s First subscription service Oct. 14, picks up where the previous season left off, with the four heroines on their separate journeys toward the Haven Academy, a Huntsman Academy in the kingdom of Mistral, setting the stage for the next great battle for Remnant.
In Volume 4, “the major themes were overcoming grief and loss,” said Luna. “Volume 5 is about picking yourself back up and getting stronger.”
Gray said that “RWBY” Volume 4 was a creative risk for the team, because the four lead characters split up and have been walking separate paths. At the start of the fifth season, “questions remain about whether they get back together,” he said. (It seems all but certain that the girls will be reunited.)
The “RWBY” team began writing Volume 5 in early May. Production began over the summer, but the last few episodes have not yet been written. Planning for the season’s big finale is set to start in late October, with main production continuing through the end of the year and into early 2018. Rooster Teeth hasn’t revealed how many episodes Volume 5 will comprise, but Haddock said there will be about a dozen.
Storylines in “RWBY” (pronounced “ruby,” like the show’s protagonist) have grown darker over time, with the show’s first major character deaths occurring in Volume 3, which concludes with the destruction of Beacon Academy, the original home of Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang.
More twists are promised for Volume 5: “We refer to it as ‘Monty-ness’ – something you didn’t expect,” Luna said. That’s a reference to Monty Oum, the Rooster Teeth animator who created “RWBY.”
Oum, who was a key animator on Rooster Teeth’s “Red vs. Blue” franchise, died in February 2015. Gray noted that the audience for “RWBY” is still divided, with simmering controversies about whether the show is remaining true to Oum’s vision. “Monty was always pushing to do something new,” said Gray.
Another ongoing dispute: Does “RWBY” deserve to be called “anime”? Purists insist that it isn’t, since it is produced outside of Japan. The show is banned from discussion on the anime subreddit on Reddit, which amuses the “RWBY” crew. (It has its own subreddit.)
At first, Haddock was irked by those who refuse to acknowledge “RWBY” as legit anime. But now, he said, “I am enjoying the hell out of that confusion… I would prefer to capitalize over the confusion at this point.”
“RWBY” is the first non-Japanese anime-style show to be distributed in Japan, under a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Japan. Said Gray, “People we recognize and admire [in the Japanese anime community] say ‘RWBY’ reminds them of the heart of anime.” He added that the whole issue is “an amusing conversation to have with our marketing team, because no one knows what to call us.” One idea was “Americanime” — which the “RWBY” team firmly rejected.
Another proof point touted by “RWBY”‘s creative collection: Tokyo-based Arc System Works has selected “RWBY” for the multi-franchise fighting game “BlazBlue: Cross-Tag Battle.” Set for release next year, that will bring together the “RWBY” girls with characters from the original “BlazBlue” and fighting games “Under Night In-Birth” and “Persona.”
“It makes that sting [about critics arguing that ‘RWBY’ isn’t anime] a little softer,” Haddock said about the “BlazBlue” project.
The production budget for “RWBY” Volume 5 has grown threefold compared with the early seasons. The latest season has a production crew of 80 people, mostly based at Rooster Teeth’s Austin, Texas, headquarters. The animation is done in-house, with the actors wearing performance-capture suits to create the basis of the scenes.
Going forward, Rooster Teeth could produce as many as 12 seasons of “RWBY,” and the team has story arcs outlined that would take the show that far. “The story does have a definitive ending with the four girls,” Luna said.
Haddock added, “‘RWBY’ is going really strong, and the mantra at Rooster Teeth is, If fans keep watching the show, we’ll keep making it.”
On Friday at New York Comic-Con, Haddock, Shawcross and Luna are set to appear on a panel along with “RWBY” voice cast members Lindsay Jones (Ruby Rose), Kara Eberle (Weiss Schnee), Arryn Zech (Blake Belladonna) and Barbara Dunkelman (Yang Xiao Long).
The “RWBY” crew enjoys seeing fans engaged in cosplay, and Haddock noted that “there’s just enough trademark elements from the show so you can spot them in crowd” — including Ruby’s 6-foot-long scythe, named Crescent Rose.
The NYCC panel will be live-streamed on YouTube starting at 2 p.m. ET:
— Rooster Teeth (@RoosterTeeth) October 5, 2017
Rooster Teeth has set Oct. 14 as the digital premiere date for “RWBY” Volume 5. It will be available on First, the company’s subscription video-on-demand service that starts at $4.99 per month, before the episodes are available on YouTube and other platforms seven days later.
In addition to the show itself, Rooster Teeth also on Oct. 14 will premiere a behind-the-scenes weekly series, “CRWBY: Behind the Episode,” about the making of the show. Then on Oct. 17, it will debut the “RWBY Rewind” live aftershow, hosted by Rooster Teeth’s Yssa Badiola and Chad James to catch up on the most recent episode with the cast and crew and provide sneak peeks at the next episode.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Twitch will stage a “RWBY” marathon of Volumes 1-4 back-to-back all day (at twitch.tv/twitchpresents) starting Oct. 9 at 11 a.m. PT and running through Oct. 13. Rooster Teeth also teamed with cinema-event distributor Fathom Events a special one-night-only theatrical screening of “RWBY” Volume 5, taking place Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. local time in nearly 500 theaters nationwide.
And another “RWBY” spinoff is in the works: a board game, “RWBY: Combat Ready,” being developed in collaboration with Arcane Wonders. The board game’s Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $348,000 to date, with additional extras promised if it gets more funding. “RWBY: Combat Ready” is expected to ship in July 2018.
Rooster Teeth Animation’s next big “RWBY”-scale project will be anime-style sci-fi series “gen:Lock.” Set for release sometime in 2018, “gen:Lock” is conceived, written and directed by Haddock.