RWBY Volume 5: A Look Back With Kerry Shawcross

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The season finale of Rooster Teeth’s popular animated series, RWBY, is finally here. And as many RWBY fans have experienced throughout Volume 5, many questions from previous seasons have, finally, been answered. But a lot more still leave the RWBY faithful wondering what is next for our favorite band of Beacon Hunters and Huntresses.

We spoke with RWBY writer Kerry Shawcross about the many happenings in Volume 5 and what was behind some of the decisions that brought the series such success.

The season finale of RWBY Volume 5 will air Saturday, Jan. 27, on the Rooster Teeth website and on the official YouTube page.

NOTE: the following interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.

Player.One Volume 5 is a seminal year for the series, the world is being expanded, our main heroes are going through a lot. How was it writing and balancing the characters and plot points during this important season?  

Kerry Shawcross: A lot of ways this season, in terms of writing, was similar to past ones but in a lot of ways it was kind of this big year for us. For us, one of the biggest challenges was how many pieces we had to deal with at this point.

We’re five years in, there's a ton of characters, the plot is advancing in a much larger way than in previous seasons. So there’s definitely a very big balancing act this year, not that it isn’t every year, but this one had a little more.

Back in Volume 1, 2 and in some regards 3, we would say “here’s a school thing that we would love the kids to do. Oh we don’t have enough time to do it this Volume, but that’s OK we have next Volume.” But now that the story is going on the move and is moving between these different kingdoms and areas, it’s a lot harder to push certain things the way we used to when we were running out of time because [the characters] may never see that area again.

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Team RNGR weren't the only focus in RWBY Volume 5 Photo: Rooster Teeth

I think there was one big balance for us that we had to focus on this year. We also spent a lot of time on finding a good balance between the action and dialogue and we definitely learned a lot on that front. We were able to get two episodes this year, which was awesome. That allowed us to have more time with the characters, which is something a lot of people have been wanting.

Especially with Volume 4 it had all the heroes separated and were trying to tell these stories with the individual characters and have them sort of come back together, we wanted the time to give something back to the audience as a sort of “hey thanks for sticking with us, we wanted to do this arc where they were separated and now that they’re back together, here’s some more time with them.”

It was definitely a big marker for us this year.

In Volume 4 the team was separated and now they are together, was it a natural transition to bring them together?

It was definitely the goal going into it. I do believe it happened naturally, we went through different iterations. We knew they would all get back together this year, we knew that Blake would be the last one because she was going to come in and help save the day. But we left how Ruby, Yang and Weiss get back together pretty wide open. Thinking about it in Volume 4 about how it was going to go, we left that pretty open so we can mess around with it and find this cool thing with Weiss and Yang where Weiss gets mixed up with Yang’s mom.

We didn’t want everything to be “here’s how everyone gets to Haven,” that didn't sound interesting to us. So we found interesting ways to get everyone together and get there in their own way and time.

Weiss probably had the biggest change in writing development from early Volume 5 to late Volume 5 in getting captured. We had an inkling of that idea earlier, but it was one of the last ideas we had. It was also very important to us that we balanced the sense of “no, she could have gotten herself out of that situation on her own.” She’s also learned a lot from the first three Volumes where she’s learned to depend on people when she is around them and you see that when she sees Yang, she immediately jumps in to fight with her.

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Weiss showed her growth as a character and a fighter in RWBY Volume 5 Photo: Rooster Teeth

This whole thing has been a balancing act. “This thing needs to happen by this episode” and “how do we do it [in a way] that’s not ‘Yang drove there on her motorcycle and that’s it?’” It’s been fun little challenges and fun ways to try new and different things.

Speaking of Weiss and Yang, it was great to see them interact more than we’ve seen them in previous seasons. How was it writing them together?

It was really fun, honestly. It’s one of those things where, like any show, you only have so much screen time. And you have to operate under this assumption that the characters are talking off-screen, but it’s also very important for the audience to see it. One of the reasons we’ve decided to take Weiss’ early Volume 5 plot in that direction is that we thought about how her and Yang had the least interaction of all the characters together. So we thought, hey, let’s give them some time together; not that we didn’t feel they didn’t bond enough, but show the audience some more of that. And also, give fans of the two of them some more screen time.

It was interesting, to me at least, seeing Weiss’ reaction and how she doesn’t immediately revert back to the last time they all saw each other. When things were “normal” where she was the prissier one, she was a little more cold, but immediately she is like “I missed you.” That’s something Miles [Luna] and I really wanted to see and we felt the audience really wanted that as well.

Do you feel Weiss’ progression was the most dramatic or extreme?

I would say so. I think she certainly had, she and Blake, had the most room to grow in terms of trusting others. Or just being a little more social, and we see that with Weiss and her different interactions to get back with Team RWBY and we see that with Blake and Sun. She’s opening up more to Sun, she’s trusting him. She could have easily got the message from Ilia and just gone on her own but instead she and Sun made sure they had their own backup plan.

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Sun and Ghira's relationship grew in RWBY Volume 5 Photo: Rooster Teeth

Over the course of Volumes 1-3  Weiss and Blake had this like “Oh we’re better than everyone else.” Especially Weiss. But in both of their cases, although sometimes they will retreat to themselves, the loss of everyone in Volume 4 definitely had an impact on them and they remember having this family and how they miss it and appreciate it more.

The story of Blake in this Volume was a complete 180 on how I viewed her from earlier seasons. What was it like writing her story and her character this season? Was it difficult?

It was definitely difficult. I’m sure there were certain things we could have accelerated faster or maybe we didn’t take enough time in certain areas. But I think, overall, I’m very happy with it. It was something we all set out to do early on when Monty, Miles and I were talking about these characters originally. We talked about this before, we wanted to introduce these characters that were easy to understand and almost one dimensional, but over the course of these years explore these characters and to find out more about them and to discover that they aren’t as one dimensional.

Weiss is not just this stuck up heiress, Blake isn’t just this loner and we wanted to get into that and explore that over time. I, personally, prefer working on more serial shows than movies because for me, characters are the most important part and to see them grow and learn more about them, and interact with them in different ways is the most interesting. I think Weiss and Blake had the most room to grow from Volume 1 so a lot of this has been on the back or front of our minds—writing all these volumes with the idea that characters will change over time.

We were pushing it a little bit each year and it was fun to actually hear people like you say that “this is 180 now, they are not a different character, but they have a completed personality now,” and hopefully it comes naturally for everybody.

A lot of Blake’s backstory was revealed. I’m interested in her relationship with Ilia. How was it to bring this inclusive character onto the show?

It’s a delicate balance. Very early on into Ilia’s character inception, we were fairly confident that she would have these feelings for Blake. But that was something we didn’t want to immediately explore just because we wanted people to start to understand or think to understand Ilia’s motivations and add the sexual level to it.

Yeah, especially right now, it’s tough because there's a lot of people in our fanbase and audience that want more representation and we do too. It was important for us that it came as a story-impactful reason and a character-impactful reason because we didn’t want to just say, “oh this person isn't straight.”

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Blake and Ilia have a heart-to-heart. Photo: Rooster Teeth

But we wanted to have a little more meaning to the show behind it. We wanted to make sure everyone was happy and that we were inclusive too. I was happy the way we were able to play Ilia in that way, where it came at a time that added to the situation. It added how you felt about Blake and how you felt about Ilia. It’s definitely a balance and we’re trying to find ways to give more representation to the series without feeling forced. That’s the overall balance that a lot of people are struggling with and we are trying and learning and hopefully everyone understands.

One of the reasons Blake’s story feels larger or has more things going on [in Volume 5] is because, going into Volume 1, she had the least normal childhood. Ruby and Yang had some friends, had a dad. Weiss, although she was rich, she had these public events. But Blake I would say had the most adult or most non-normal childhood. She went through a lot of things. She went through rebellion, protest, combat missions and a whole lot of different things. And that’s why her story took a little more time on-screen to handle because there’s so many pieces to it.

Volume 5 delivered on a lot of things that the audience wanted to see. Jaune’s semblance, Yang’s mom. You guys finally pulled the trigger on a lot of it—how was the pressure to actually do it?

Yea we wanted to make sure that as we move on, we know it's important to start answering the questions we started to ask. Some of them have easy answers that we can say, “Here’s Jaune’s semblance.” It’s not like we were just sitting on it and the pressure got so bad that we had to do it. We had plans to do it around this time and we felt like we had a good moment. That was part of the balance with us. We have a lot of things that we set up and have plans for, but it’s a balancing act of we have this amount of runtime this season. Which ones can we get in? Which ones can we do justice to?

If we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. A lot of questions we can answer in a not-as meaningful or impactful way like just getting the answer out, but that doesn’t seem worth it to me.

If people really wanted to know about Jaune's semblance, for example, or people want to know more about Yang and Raven, we could have just had a training session where Jaune unlocked it and that was it. It could have taken less time and been done earlier, but instead we rather find more impactful ways and ways that people will remember.

Every year we try to think about the questions we have that we need to answer. What needs to happen this year for plot reasons, what we would like to happen because we know that fans would like to have it and we would like to have. Every year, we normally don’t get to that one thing and that’s normally the top-asked thing for next year.

And with the continued support from everybody, for Volume 5 we got an increased runtime like we saw between Volumes 3 and 4, and 4 and 5, and as that continues to happen, we will have time to answer more questions.

It’s a strenuous little process and I understand it can be frustrating when an exact question they want answered isn’t, but we’re going to make sure we’re doing it in the right way and it’s meaningful.

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Yang and her relationship with her mom has had its ups and (mostly) downs in Volume 5 Photo: Rooster Teeth

The reveal that Magic exists in this world is a big deal. Why introduce that now?

It’s just a natural progression in the series. As we set up the series we said there’s no magic, there’s dust. It was something we knew was coming as the story progresses and the relics and all that [are introduced]. Expect more of that in the future and I don’t want to be too teasy, but there’s definitely more to come.

It’s something new we wanted to explore and we’re not going to get rid of dust or anything like that, but it’s another element into the fire.

What will the reaction to the season finale be?

I really hope they like the season finale. It’s definitely more of an emotional finale, but we felt it was very fitting. We definitely tried to answer some more questions and we’ll probably pose some more, but it’s definitely leading into Volume 6 and that’s something we’re very excited about.

We’re getting going on it right now and there’s going to be some cool stuff and I’m very excited about it. 

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