The pastfew episodes of RWBY have focused predominantly on dialogue and moving the chess pieces across the board. There has been very little in terms of conflict and action, and what tidbits the audience did get were either short from the get-go or cut off prematurely. However, in ‘As Above, So Below’, the volume finally steers away from the political manoeuvring and shows the price secrets have.
As ever, spoilers ahead for RWBY.
‘As Above, So Below’ opens up in the streets of Mantle from the perspectives of Pietro and Calavera. With the heating grid turned off and the snowstorm only getting worse, Pietro opens up his workshop to act as a temporary shelter for some of the confused residents.
Meanwhile, in Atlas, Ironwood continues to get grilled for his decisions with Robyn threatening to use her semblance of lie detection in front of everyone to confirm what Ironwood says. However, before she has a chance to, Weiss comes bursting in with her mother’s camera footage, revealing her father’s set up of the rigged election, as well as Watts not only being alive but now having access to the city’s network. Here, the dialogue reveals some valuable information: a reason as to why Watts betrayed Atlas is that ‘James Ironwood never recognised my genius. After everything I gave him, he still disgraced me. I simply wish…to return the favour’.
In the past Watts has been portrayed as a vain and prideful character, and this reveal confirms the character’s motive: he felt that Salem would recognise his genius and he would be able to get revenge against someone he felt betrayed him. Additionally, the previous episode had some subtle symbolism with wine and water glasses – these have now been removed, representing how every character at the table is on a more equal playing field.
It also gives the fans some satisfaction, as Jacques – a vile character who abused Weiss throughout her childhood, uses Faunus as slave labour in his company, and colluded with one of the antagonists for his own gain – gets put on the spot for his actions and arrested. It’s all the more poetic that the daughter he viewed as a failure is the one to arrest him, even though her saying ‘Jacques Schnee, you’re under arrest…can I do that?’ to Ironwood takes away from the impact.
However, things are not going as well in Mantle: the once confused citizens have now started to riot while Tyrian and Watts move in the shadows. At least this makes up for the lack of a riot scene at the end of episode five. As the council and RWBY hold Jacques accountable for his actions, while he tries to worm his way out of it. He is shown as a coward who seemingly doesn’t realize the consequences of his actions. However, Jacques has always had the character of a cunning manipulator and opportunist, so it’s more likely he was aware and simply didn’t care. It is here the audience learns a little bit more about Watts’s background: he could manipulate the Atlas security network so easily because he was the one who designed it.
However, during this shakedown, the protagonists learn about the situation in the city below, and with Watts locking them out of the system to cover his tracks, they are forced to make a move. While Ironwood tries to strategize how to handle the situation, Robyn confronts him about the Amity communications tower. Meanwhile, Mantle is becoming a war zone: not only are the riots getting worse, but the Grimm start to attack the city. Again, it looks like the writers are making up for the way they cut off episode six by showing the military going head to head with the monsters.
‘As Above, So Below’ introduces two new designs of Grimm: the Megoliath and the Teryx. While the Megoliaths are similar to the elephant-like Grimm that were shown all the way back in volume 2, the design of these creatures takes inspiration from a mammoth. That, and the Teryx are clearly inspired by Pterodactyls. Between them and the Sabyrs, Atlas’ native Grimm are clearly inspired more by prehistoric creatures instead of fairy-tale beasts.
The culmination of all the secrets and the escalating conflict down in Mantle prompts Oscar to advise Ironwood that now would be a perfect time to reveal what he’s been up to, since the secrets he has been trying to keep are already out in the open. Inspired by his words and the support from Ruby’s group, the general makes his move to retaliate, catching up the councilman and Robyn about his plans while ordering the huntresses to save the city of Mantle and Oscar to take refuge at the Atlas academy before personally going after Watts and Tyrian. This is actually a really nice scene. A lot of this volume is focused around the theme of trust – this is especially prevalent in the lyrics of the opening theme. Watching all these characters come together finally with an orchestral version of the theme in the background feels uplifting.
Before departing, Oscar and Ruby make the agreement to tell Ironwood about Jinn’s prophecy, but they do it in a cutesy awkward way, hinting towards a potential relationship in the future. Additionally, it is interesting to see that Ren is clearly suffering from some form of PTSD from his past: while the huntresses get a briefing on how to execute their mission, he looks visibly distracted, only brought back to reality when Nora squeezes his hand.
Oscar returns to Ironwood and reveals to him Jinn’s prophecy that Salem cannot be killed, and that Ozpin kept it a secret from him so that he wouldn’t lose hope while RWBY kept it from him as they weren’t sure who to trust. Though despite being visibly shocked, Ironwood focuses on the task of saving Mantle. It seems that Oscar and Ozpin are becoming less like separate personalities and one entity as he describes Atlas as a symbol of hope and Ironwood replies in a surprised tone with ‘you say that like you were there’. They conclude the exchange with Ironwood saying almost jokingly ‘Oscar, no more surprises, I’m not sure I can take it’.
As ‘As Above, So Below’ draws to a conclusion, the airship carrying the Huntsmen is attacked by a Teryx, forcing RWBY and the Ace Ops to ditch the crashing aircraft and make an emergency jump into Mantle. Here, we see Jaune trying not to vomit: this is a little call back to his introduction in the pilot episode.
Back at the Schnee manor, Jacques is dragged into a prison transport with Whitley running off in anger. If Jacques doesn’t return, it’s most likely that the prodigal son will take over his son’s company and prove a thorn in the protagonist’s side. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a waiter who was eavesdropping on the last moments of the dinner party skips away gleefully to an unknown location. Here, the audience is reintroduced to Cinder Fall, and the waiter turns out to be Neo in disguise. Both these villains haven’t been seen since the conclusion of volume six’s finale, and they are a welcome wrench in the works.
While the previous episodes may have been dry at best and boring, the pay off in ‘As Above, So Below’ is so worth it. A detestable character who’s hated by the fans finally seems to get his comeuppance, and our heroes, who have been impatiently sitting on the sidelines while Atlasian politics took the spotlight, finally seem to get a chance to do what they’re best at: kicking ass and saving the day. All aboard the hype train – the next episodes are looking promising.
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'As Above, So Below' is a much more stable balance of storytelling elements than the previous episodes, allowing the drama that has been set up to finally pay off as well as showing some well needed action
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