Features Reviews TV

RWBY Volume Nine: “A Tale Involving a Tree”

The penultimate episode of RWBY Volume Nine has to juggle a lot in the space of fifteen minutes. The follow up to the previous soul-crushing, mouse-stomping episode was not going to be an easy ride for anybody. Ruby’s ascension lingers over the plot very much like the tree does in background. However, the episode has to deal with lingering subplots before we get to crucial finale. However, the focus and pacing mire the episode, leaving the story a little underwhelming.

The episode opens with Summer Rose finally making a proper appearance in the show, voiced by Morgan Garrett. She reads Alyx’s story to her sleeping daughter, revealing that she was the narrator heard the volume’s first episode. The words of the story mirror Ruby’s journey, though the question of her identity and purpose remain – “What are you?”

We cut to Ruby’s teammates racing across the Ever After to reach the tree. Jaune speculates on what the land truly wants, cursing himself for his repeated failures to save others. Their path leads right back to the flooded home of the Paper Pleasers, who have returned as the Genial Gems. They are the safe characters, clearing up the forest, but free from being harmed by fire or water. This confirms that ascension is not a terrifying ordeal as Jaune assumed it was, instead changing people into better versions of themselves.

Jaune realises that he was behaving selfishly in order to fulfil his desire to be a hero, unable to overcome his guilt. Thus, his forced kindness harmed the Paper Pleasers rather than help them. Weiss comforts Jaune, telling him that even the greatest hunters in history struggled and lost, but were good people. This leads to a charming group hug as Jaune’s internal healing begins.

Whilst this is a cathartic moment for Jaune, the episode’s focus is on the wrong character. Ruby’s consumption by the tree should have left a huge impact on her friends, especially Yang, who was practically catatonic last episode. Now, they’re all bear hugging. It is important for Jaune to overcome his burdens, but such emotional attention should have been with Yang, Weiss, and Blake. Ruby’s meltdown was enough to shock her friends, but their response to her ”death” feels very lacklustre. Perhaps it wasn’t need, since the characters were aware of the tree’s nature.

Still, we have a tree to get to. Jaune remarks that they had to accept their failures, finally allowing the group to be transported to the tree. It can make sense in context as to why they got there so fast. Weiss, Blake, and Yang had acknowledged their flaws, but remained firm in their commitment to being huntresses. Ruby was not, unable to properly express herself, whilst Jaune was wracked with guilt. By accepting his failures, Jaune was the key needed to reach the tree.

The group find the Herbalist, appropriately encased in a cocoon of wood, still undergoing his ascension. For the Paper Pleasers, they had waited a long time to ascend and knew their purpose, so their transformation was over quickly. Herb’s might be a little more complex, though I reason the Cat pushed him into choosing ascension as part of his plan to possess Ruby. Speaking of her, the group find Ruby in her own cocoon. A distraught Yang tries to free her, but Jaune stops her. They cannot intervene, but must accept whatever or whoever Ruby becomes. Yang understandably struggles to accept this, worrying that Ruby won’t be her sister anymore. Just then, Herb pops out of his cocoon, sporting legs and the wings that the Blacksmith was crafting. He accepts his new duds easily and flies off, inspiring the others to wait and see what happens.

We catch up with Ruby in the heart of the tree, where she reunites with the Blacksmith. Our metallic friend appears to be forging a mouse-shaped headpiece. Apparently Little has already come through and chosen her new form. I do hope Little returns for the last episode to provide clarity on her purpose as Ruby’s guide. There has been speculation that Little was once Penny’s body, repurposed to act as Ruby’s friend.

Ruby asks if the Blacksmith is the tree incarnate, to which she somewhat confirms as a simplistic way to look at the tree’s way. Ruby fears that she will die, but the Blacksmith reassures Ruby that the decision is hers alone. Her friends emphasized this as well. The writers chose to focus on Ruby and make the decision hers. For most of her life, Ruby deliberately walked in her mother’s shadow and carried burdens of others, at the expense of her own needs. At the moment she gets decide her own destiny, Ruby finds herself unable to, much to the Blacksmith’s surprise.

Jumping back to the others, they hear a loud banging noise. They find the door back to Remnant, which the Cat/Neo is trying to ram his way through unsuccessfully. The Cat is unable to go through as Neo has no attachments to Remnant. Avenging Torchwick was personal, whilst get payback on Cinder is more arbitrary. The Cat then drops the clanger that he tried doing the same thing to Alyx. In a flashback, the Cat explains that he, Alyx, and Lewis reached the tree. After Alyx had a conversation with a tree, she has a change of heart, deciding to stay in the Ever After to fix all the problems she caused. She sent Lewis back home, thwarting the Cat’s plans, so he killed her.

The Cat spots Ruby, realising she wishes to return home, returning to his Plan A to use her as a host instead. This leads to a brief fight, where the Cat tried to play on the team’s minds, including whipping up some zombie Rubies to horrify Yang. She’s having none of it, punching the zombie sisters to pieces. Jaune attacks the Cat, but freezes when he transforms into Penny, whilst an illusionary Pyrrha comes up from behind and slashes him in the back. A poorly aimed fireball from Weiss knocks Jaune off the tree. Jaune may undergo his own ascension, possibly returning to his younger self.

Ruby follows the Blacksmith through the tree as wispy, green lights pass by. The Blacksmith explains they are the souls of those heading for their next life. It should be noted that the Blacksmith does share some traits with Alix, suggesting she is the ascension of the storybook heroine. Alix wished to remain in the Ever After to fix things after all. When Ruby asks if they made the choice, the Blacksmith ponders if Ruby is concerned for them, or for herself. Ruby expresses how she wanted to be a hero like in the stories told to her as a child. But, ever step of the way grew harder, to the point where Ruby feels like her attempts to do good only made things worse. She concludes that she doesn’t know who she needs to be.

The Blacksmith offers her the chance to be “anyone”, as a row of glass cabinets containing various weapons appear. Ruby inspects the weapons, which the Blacksmith describes as being potential paths for whoever wields them. Ruby describes how her burden feels so heavy, the feeling of never being enough. The Blacksmith asks how does one measure “enough”.

Ruby then spots her mother’s gun-axe – what could be described as her tape measure for what is enough. We hear Summer Rose’s voice repeating the final passage of Alyx’s storybook, as a slow version of “Red Like Roses” plays in the background. Ruby then reaches for the weapon, before she is consumed by silver light.

Though there are still questions left to be answered, the ever present one is what will Ruby’s choice be. She could return as a “better” version of herself inspired by how she views Summer Rose. Or, she will realise that her efforts are in fact enough. Which brings us back to measuring what is “enough”. How do you weigh the responsibilities of a hero? Ruby’s ascension awaits, though who or what she will be when she emerges, is up to her.

What are your thoughts on this episode of RWBY? Will Ruby ascend, or remain as she is? Leave a comment below, or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell