Last week’s ‘Dark‘ reopened the volume with a roaring start. While it seems the first half of the volume was building up to something grand, it certainly has paid off as episode eight had equal measures of drama, tension, and action. That episode focused on what was going on with Ruby’s group – now, with ‘Witch’ the volume switches to the rest of the team as they dive into the very heart of darkness.
‘Witch’ opens with a tracking shot across the battlefield outside Atlas, as the Atlesian military continues to hold the line. Broken corpses can briefly be seen before Monstra is shown spilling out more Grimm. Though short, it establishes how dire the situation is.
The scene changes to Jaune, Ren and Yang infiltrating the creature, with Yang commenting: “Well, that was harrowing.”
A regular problem that pops up with the series is that it tells the audience what is going on more often than it shows – the first vocal track in Midnight is one such example. Yes, Ren could have used his masking ability to cover the group getting into Monstra, but this could’ve been better if it had instead shown the group narrowly avoiding Grimm before they got in – they look like they’ve just ran a race instead of snuck their way through a war zone.
As they try to collect themselves and figure out their next step, Ren points out that he can feel some people’s emotions deep within. This seems to be treated as a revelation, where even Yang is surprised.
However, this doesn’t seem to be too far out of the realm of possibility. Ren’s Semblance helps control people’s emotions – hence why he can camouflage people from Grimm – so it stands to reason that he can detect them to some degree. The idea of Semblances evolving isn’t a new concept in the show either. Just look at Ruby’s Petal Burst ability.
With their next step determined, the group goes to investigate. Meanwhile, in Oscar’s cell, he and Ozpin have a quiet moment of reflection with each other. The introduction to the dialogue – Oscar mentioning a quote that Ozpin recognises as from a fairy tale – is a reference to Alice in Wonderland. Oscar compares himself to her in the excitement he felt when he took the call to his adventure, but now instead has an overwhelming sense of sadness about the changes he has gone through.
‘Witch’ emphasises this further when Ozpin offers to use his power to break them out, but it scares Oscar, for every time the pair use magic, it brings their souls closer to merging. The struggle that Oscar has over his loss of identity continues to be one of the stronger yet subtle subplots in the recent volumes of RWBY. The scene finishes up with Hazel suddenly dragging Oscar out of his cell.
Meanwhile, Winter orders a regiment of soldiers to hold a landing zone for the bomb they plan to use for Monstra. Amongst the ranks, Neon Katt and Flynt Coal can be spotted. It seems the writers are trying to show how desperate the forces are by including Huntsman-in-training alongside the military. Even Marrow is shown to have a moment of confliction, saying how ‘they’re just kids,’ and further developing on his character’s disillusionment with the army.
Back in Monstra, Hazel drags Oscar straight to the Relic of Knowledge, prompting him to activate it. Emerald later walks in, but instead of intervening, she’s also curious about what will happen. When Jinn comes out of the relic, both of the antagonists stand shocked, with Hazel changing his conviction.
“What are you going to do?”
“What Gretchen would have done, and that starts with getting you away from here. Both of you.”
This is an interesting change of pace for multiple reasons. Fans have theorized that Emerald would be one of the more likely antagonists to switch sides, and Hazel has been one of the more interesting villains in Salem’s entourage. While it seemed his faith in Salem was shaken in a previous episode and it is an intriguing twist for the character, it’s still a bit fast for Hazel to suddenly want to defend Oscar.
Even if the truth was revealed before him, Oscar still shares a body with Ozpin, who Hazel still surely blames for his sister’s death. However, with this turn of events, Hazel plans to get Oscar and Emerald away from Monstra, promising to come back to retrieve the relic. But just as they leave the room, a camouflaged Neo appears from one of the walls, having clearly heard everything and moving to grab the relic, seemingly for herself.
Elsewhere, Jaune, Ren and Yang continue to look for Oscar, with Jaune offering to scout ahead while Ren takes a break from using his masking ability. Yang and Ren have a brief conversation about how they both are scared while Ren doesn’t feel any fear from Jaune, only conviction in the task at hand. This particular piece of dialogue feels a bit off. On the one hand, it could be argued that Jaune – someone who came from a line of proud warriors – is developing more from the scared boy at the start of the series to the man he always wanted to be. On the other hand, considering one of the writers, Miles Luna, voices Jaune, it can come off as a little bit too power fantasy-ish, especially as one of the main four is bigging up a secondary character.
However, due to a chance encounter with a Seer and Ren’s Semblance powering down, just as Salem confronts Emerald and what looks like to be Hazel, she is alerted to their presence, as well as seemingly noticing the lamp going missing. More on this later. With their cover blown, the group moves with new purpose.
When Yang suggests “Let’s do what we do best, charge blindly into danger!”, it’s hard to tell whether he’s just being sarcastic, or if this is the writers poking fun at themselves for throwing their heroes straight into danger. It would be humorous on some level if it was the latter. With that being said, this line carries a bit of weight to it – though Yang has been making idle jokes about the danger they’re in, it carries a bit more weight with her personally. The last time she ran into battle blindly, she lost her arm. Something worth pointing out.
Back on the battlefield, as the military continue to hold against the Grimm, the payload arrives at the LZ, making Marrow look out towards Monstra and say: “Come on, Juan.” Upon my first viewing ‘Witch’, this felt a little disconnecting. I had to rewatch the clip to make sure that there wasn’t a mispronunciation in the line delivery, and even though it’s very minor – Marrow and Jaune have established a friendly relationship with each other – it felt a bit weird the first time I watched it because it wasn’t really established.
In Monstra, Jaune, Ren and Yang run into Emerald and Hazel. Just as they are about to strike, it is revealed that Emerald was using her illusion Semblance to make Oscar simply look like Hazel. The group have a friendly reunion, and it might feel like a sweet moment, but all I could think about when Jaune bear hugs Oscar was the extensive torture the latter went through and how much that must’ve hurt. When they confront Emerald, Ren defends her, pointing out how he can feel her sense of fear before the group all turn to escape.
Back at the LZ, Winter sets her plan to bomb Monstra into motion, ordering more soldiers to clear a path to the creature. This irks Marrow.
“Would you say the same thing if it was your sister inside? Are you gonna tell her what you did to her friends?”
“Yes, Marrow, because that’s my duty. Now you do yours.”
This scene, however short, is a personal highlight. The pain on Winter’s face when Marrow confronts her, the writing, it makes for some nice emotional impact. Winter has always been a strong character, and though I’ve criticized the standard of the dialogue in the show before, these few seconds really stood out to me as very positive.
As the group make their escape from Monstra, there is another disconnecting moment. In the background of one of the shots, the quality of the textures on the fields below Monstra look so cheap. Though it is a minor note, it feels like a cheap eyesore in a show that has progressively gained more production value and continuously improved on its standard of animation.
Another piece of criticism comes from when Salem finally catches up with the group, and she grabs Emerald. The true extent of Salem’s abilities hasn’t been properly established but considering she’s the mistress of all Grimm and an all powerful being that is the biggest threat against Remnant, surely, she would have been able to notice Emerald was using her Semblance – she knows what it does, and she should have been suspicious when the usually calm and collected Hazel seemed a bit uneasy in her presence.
As the scene goes on, the group try to attack Salem with little effect. The production crew show off their animating abilities, as at one point Yang uses explosives on Salem, only for her flesh to grow back. It’s a small moment, but it’s a really cool piece of work.
With Salem subduing everyone, she starts to interrogate Emerald and Oscar as to the whereabouts of the missing relic. Yang verbally lashes out at Salem, condemning her for taking Summer Rose away from her. In the past, the writers have been previously criticised for not developing their relationship more. Despite the fact Summer raised Yang as her own, there are very few moments where she actually refers to her as her guardian – the only moment that really stands out is in Volume 2. Instead, the writers focused more on her estranged relationship with Raven, so this moment genuinely feels like an improvement. Also, when is there going to be a flashback sequence of Summer Rose?
Now this is where the rest of ‘Witch’ really comes into its own. Hazel arrives and Salem assumes that he is still on her side, ordering him to take Oscar back to his cell. That is when Hazel picks him up, and whispers in his ear: “No more Gretchens, boy.”
With that, he turns around and lashes out at Salem, giving the group enough time to escape. This conclusion to ‘Witch’ is amazing, ranging from the fantastic score to the sharp and high-octane animated fight sequence, it is a great – albeit short – battle between two powerful forces of nature. While it’s far from one of the best fights ever to be shown in the series, it’s still a lot of fun to watch. Even the previous criticism about Hazel switching sides so quickly wasn’t enough to shake me from the scene. Well, almost.
“So you’ve decided against vengeance for your sister after all this time.”
“I’m doing what Gretchen would’ve done.”
It feels a little bit questionable why Hazel would be suddenly shaken from his obsession for vengeance, only just now realizing to do what his sister would have wanted to do. Again, it’s not a major point of contention, but something worth noting.
The fight is quick and violent, but Salem quickly bests him. However, just as she’s about to kill him, she notices Oscar. Just as she lunges out to strike the boy down, Hazel tackles her, and the pair wrestle with each other. Salem uses Grimm arms to start choking Hazel out, while he holds onto her for dear life, biting down on a red dust crystal so that they both can burn. This distraction is enough for a reluctant Oscar to use magic on an incapacitated Salem, finishing the episode on a bright light.
Though ‘Witch’ does have some points of criticism which are worth noting – a brief moment of cheap textures in the background of one scene, a weird piece of wording in another – it’s still a good episode. Unlike Dark, which was a consistently strong episode, Witch had its ups and down but finished with a bang. The final battle feels like a callback to what made RWBY so enjoyable in the first place, and the strength of it outweighs the bad.
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'Witch' has a few problems, a couple of them feel big enough to briefly disconnect the viewer from the story. However, the developments in the story and the final fight between Hazel and Salem more than makes up for it.
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