How devoted are fans of the animated show RWBY? Well, let’s just say that when the Austin, Texas-based multi-media company Rooster Teeth, which produces the series, screened material from the upcoming third season at the corporation’s annual RTX Festival, it didn’t take long for devotees of the anime to start cosplaying as new characters. In fact, it took just two days.
“We showed a clip from the new season on Friday,” explains Kerry Shawcross, the director of the third season of RWBY season 3, which premieres on RoosterTeeth.com this weekend. “On Sunday, we had people cosplaying the four new characters we showed off. We asked how they did it and they said, ‘We didn’t sleep.'”
RWBY tracks the adventures of four young women — Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang — as they train to be monster-battling warriors (or “Huntresses”) at a college named Beacon Academy. The show was the brainchild of Monty Oum, a writer and animator who developed RWBY while working on another Rooster Teeth show, the Halo video game-inspired animated sitcom Red vs. Blue. “I remember Monty saying [that] he started with the idea of Red Riding Hood with a giant scythe,” says Lindsay Jones, who voices the character of Ruby.
Fans of Rooster Teeth, which is also responsible for video gaming website Achievement Hunter and the forthcoming live-action sci-fi comedy Lazer Team among other projects, were first made aware of RWBY in 2012 when a trailer for the show appeared after the end credits of the Red vs. Blue season 10 finale.
“We had trepidation,” says Barbara Dunkelman, who voices Yang and is also Rooster Teeth’s social media manager. “A lot of fans are like, ‘I hate anime, I don’t want anything that’s like anime.’ But they loved it. I’ve never seen a fan reaction to anything we’ve done as big as that.”
RWBY premiered online in July 2013 and proved a big hit for Rooster Teeth, with the first two seasons — or volumes — and associated character trailers racking up over 70 million views on YouTube, while broadening the the company’s fanbase along the way. “Rooster Teeth has always skewed male,” says Dunkelman. “But RWBY was definitely one of those things were it was like, ‘Oh, this is clearly a show that females are going to enjoy. It’s about four main characters who are all girls, who are all really awesome, and badass, and strong, and powerful. Just the other day, we left a little voicemail for one of our employee’s kids and he [said] she was freaking out. She couldn’t believe that Ruby and Yang had called her on the phone. But our male audience loves it too.“
Many RWBY viewers also felt a special connection to the show’s creator, Oum. “Cosplayers especially, they loved Monty,” says Jones. “He was the first person to be like, ‘I’ll design characters specifically for cosplayers.’ He’d make sure you can buy those items, make sure you can be properly equipped, so fans took to that immediately.”
“He made sure that every character had very functional pockets,” continues Rooster Teeth director of animation, Gray G. Haddock. “So, cosplayers going to conventions had places to put their keys and wallets and so forth.”
In February of this year, Oum died, having suffered an extreme allergic reaction durng a simple medical procedure. His death, at the age of just 33, prompted an outpouring of grief from fans. “It was overwhelming,” says Dunkelman. “A lot of people said they’d never been so affected by someone’s passing, who wasn’t part of their family.”
Oum’s death also devastated the remaining RWBY team, who had lost both their friend and the show’s main creative force. Haddock explains that, at the time of Oum’s death he had just begun work on planning season 3. “We were between seasons,” he says. “He had barely gotten started when we lost him. We do hope to have a couple of shots here and there throughout the season that we’ll be able to point out to the fans later: ‘By the way, that particular moment right there, that was a Monty shot.’ [But], for the most part, volume 3’s animation is from scratch, without him.”
The good news was that, before his death, Oum, Shawcross and another member of the Rooster Teeth family, writer Miles Luna, had mapped a dense outline for several upcoming seasons. “Before we were even generating scripts, we were building the show bible,” says Luna. “We were laying out this adventure that our characters would go on.”
“Monty had ideas for seasons and seasons,” says Jones. “He was like, ‘Ruby’s going to do this.’ I was like, ‘When? What year from now is that happening?'”
The particular adventure dealt with in season 3 is a tournament involving both our heroines and newly introduced fighters. “The second we were like, ‘Cool, we’re making this show,’ we said, ‘We’re going to have a tournament, right?'” recalls Shawcross. “So that’s the big thing this year.”
“The tournament is like the Olympics of our crazy world,” adds Luna. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to see some of our favorite characters pitted against each other, and against people from other kingdoms, and far-off lands. It is a lot of fighting. There is more fighting than any other season — maybe combined.”
Haddock admits he is trepidatious about how season 3 will be received by fans but is personally satisfied that the team is doing everything it can to continue fulfilling Oum’s vision. “On the animation side, we have some animators that had been mentored by Monty over the last several years and it was basically now their time to grow up a little bit faster than anybody thought they were going to have to,” he says. “But I couldn’t be prouder — everyone is rising to the occasion. They want to do right by Monty. They want to make sure that the fans still think that the show looks and feels like it’s supposed to. It’s a challenge, it’s a struggle. But everyone’s doing their best.”
Looking ahead, Dunkelman and Jones see no reason why Rwby should not follow the long-running example of Red vs. Blue, which recently wrapped season 13.
“We’re going to be making it for a looooooooong time,” says Dunkelman.
“Season 20 is happening,” adds Jones. “No worries.”
Rooster Teeth sponsors can see the premiere episode of RWBY: Volume 3 on Oct. 24 and the show becomes available for the public the next day.
You can exclusively see the trailer for season 3 of RWBY, above.