Disclaimer: This post has spoilers for RWBY Volumes 3 and 4. Specifically, Volume 4, Episode 4: Family. If you haven’t watched that episode yet, and don’t want spoilers, then go watch and come back to this post. You have been warned!
RWBY as a series is probably the most conflicting show I’ve ever watched. It seems like it has so much potential, in its story telling, characters and world building, but something with it just doesn’t make me get totally invested in what I’m watching. I’ll get more into that in another post, because what I want to talk about here is one of the things it’s been doing right. In fact, it’s been doing it very, very right: so much so that I think it’s the best portrayal of this certain subject matter in any piece of media I’ve seen. What am I talking about, you may ask?
The cycle of grief, when you’ve first found out you have a disability, and how others around you adapt to the new changes in both their, and your life.
In one of the first scenes in RWBY Volume 4, Episode 4, we get this dialogue exchange between Yang and Tai:
“I’m scared. Everyone keeps talking about me getting back to normal, and I appreciate it, but…this is normal now. It’s just taking me a while to get used to it.”
“Well, normal is what you make of it.”
“What is that supposed to mean? Do you want me to just pretend like nothing happened? I lost a part of me. A piece of myself is gone and it’s never coming back.”
“You’re right, it’s never coming back. But it doesn’t have to stop you from becoming who you want to be.”
This exchange happens after quite some time. Yang hasn’t had one of her arms for months, and sunk into a deep depression at the end of Volume 3, and the beginning of Volume 4. Tai had acquired a prosthetic, mechanical arm for her, but she refused to try it on. He had been trying to reach out to her, but she just wasn’t responding, so he gave her space to mourn the loss of her limb. When Yang finally came out to talk, and opened up about her feelings, she had the above to say and Tai knew she was ready to finally listen to him and was able to finally start processing her loss.
How happy it made me to see that they gave this much time and consideration to this subject matter is something I can’t really express. In so many shows, they have someone get hurt, and either the disability they now suffer from be magically healed, or they just instantly adapt to the loss by episodes end. Either that, or we get the magical disability trope, where yeah they’re disabled but they still act exactly the same and like they have nothing they have to adapt to what so ever. RWBY didn’t do any of those things: They had Yang get depressed, they have Yang still having PTSD because of how she lost her arm, and she’s finally moving on to her healing stage. Does that mean she’s completely better? Not at all, because these are all things she’s going to have to deal with for the rest of her life, but that’s completely ok because she knows it’s now going to be her new normal. Not only did they show all of this, but they showed it over a series of a few episodes, and are probably going to be continuing to show it all season.
It’s good for a show to display that it takes time. You have to process, you have to grieve because yes, at first, it’s going to feel like you can’t do anything. You’re going to have to learn how to do things completely differently, and relearn things all over again. You’re going to have to realize that “Normal” to you isn’t going to be “Normal” to anyone else. Will that hinder your way of life at all? Only if you let it. At first, Yang was letting it hinder her way of life. She felt useless, not able to fight with her team, with her friends. She felt like she was a burden, and honestly, that feeling for her probably is never going to go away. However, she’s worked through it, and is working toward pushing forward. Yang wants to adapt first, without a mechanical arm. She wants to know that if the assistance she will have to rely on for the rest of her life somehow isn’t working, she can stand tall with just one arm, and be 100 percent confident in herself, no matter what.
That’s such a powerful, mature message that mirrors the reality of having a disability, and I applaud Rooster Teeth for putting it in the show. Not only that, but how Tai deals with it, too. Because you know in his head he’s going “Oh no my daughter is going to have to deal with this the rest of her life my poor baby” but instead of voicing those concerns, he’s helping her find her way. He knows how capable she is, how strong and resilient she will continue to be, and went as far as to get her a new arm to replace the one she lost (which, according to the characters, was no easy feat and took a lot of string pulling).
This is so true for parents who deal with children with disabilities, also. I remember when I first was losing my sight, my Mom would always tell me “You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to find an alternative way to do it. Nothing is stopping you” even when people around me would say the exact opposite, would try to stagnate my progress in school, or with hobbies. She would always be there to fight for me.
It’s moments like this that make me not want to stop watching RWBY. Because sure it has flaws, sure it’s slow moving, but when it comes down to it, it’s doing a lot of things that tons of other shows aren’t. When RWBY takes a risk, the show shines, showing what it’s really made of, and what it can be. When it sticks to the typical shounen/shoujo character tropes and plot clichés, are when I think it starts to fall flat for me. Going in to watching this episode, I said “If this episode doesn’t grab me, I’m going to wait to binge this whole season” and then this scene happened and got me hooked again! I’ve found that’s happened to me throughout the series, it has a lot of ups and downs that I really want to dive into later (probably soon).
I’m really hoping that we get to see more of Yang’s development and coping throughout the rest of Volume 4. I know that eventually, she’ll be using the mechanical arm she was given by Tai, but ugh I really want to see her fight with one arm! How badass would that be? Either way, I hope Rooster Teeth keeps this awesome representation up, because they’re doing a great job!