Up to this point, I’ve analyzed characters that I thought were effective and well-written. But you can’t know what is good until you know what is bad. So today, I want to discuss a character that I consider to be so frustratingly written that it hurts.
Ruby, the central protagonist of RWBY, is not at all a good character. No part of her character functions on its own, let alone with the others. She is a shallow rendition of a classic Shounen anime archetype.
Which is infuriating, considering how good this character could be! Let me break down why!
The Wound: Never Take the Place of You
Ruby’s wound is incredibly simple. When Ruby was incredibly young, her mother, Summer Rose, died while on a mission. Classic missing parent injury. It’s used a lot, but that’s because it is effective. It should work well with Ruby!
Except here’s the thing: it doesn’t.
This trauma almost never comes into play with Ruby’s character. Hell, it’s a rare miracle for the show to even mention it! It never motivates Ruby’s actions, it never shaped her goal, and it never forged a lie that steered her the wrong way!
Which leads me to my next problem: the lie. Or in this case: the lack thereof.
The Lie: The Problem With Truth
A lie is absolutely essential for any good character arc. If the character cannot conquer their lie, then they cannot grow as a person. If there is no lie to overcome, then there is nothing that the character needs to defeat in order to grow! Without a lie, there is no character arc.
There is no lie that steers Ruby’s way. There are several good opportunities to introduce a lie like this, but the show only plays with the idea for an episode at the longest! They’re almost always dropped as soon as they’re introduced!
For example, Ruby’s struggles with leadership in the first season could have made for a good character arc for the first season! It would have been extremely satisfying to watch Ruby become a great leader! But the plot thread is dropped in the same fucking episode that it’s introduced in!
I guess the writers just didn’t want to watch their precious baby girl have to deal with a struggle. That would make her a character! Someone who has to deal with problems and become a better person! Then she’d be relatable! We can’t have that!
Now you may be thinking: maybe Ruby isn’t meant to change! Maybe she’s designed to be a flat character, like Goku! She’s designed to inspire change in others rather than in herself!
Once again, I have to shut that down. See, Ruby’s involvement in the other characters doesn’t change them. At all. Yang and Blake work together for each other’s character arcs, Weiss sort of does her own thing, Pyrrha is central to Jaune’s character arc, Ren and Nora don’t have characters at all, Qrow and Ozpin do their own thing, so on and so forth. Ruby doesn’t do anything for their character arcs.
So no. She is not a flat character. She could have made for a good flat character. But that, much like everything else with her character, is a huge waste of potential.
The Want: The Problem With a Pure Heart
Once again, Ruby Rose is lacking in one of the most important cardinal needs for any good character. The only want that Ruby ever expresses is “I want to become a huntress so I can help people! Helping people is good, so that’s what I want to do!” That’s it! Her selfish desire is selflessness!
Now, before you get mad: a purely selfless character can work. A great example is Marvel’s Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America. He is a selfless character who wanted nothing more than to help people. But here’s the thing: Cap works as a character because he had to struggle for that want. He had to become strong enough to achieve it, then he had to make people take him seriously as a soldier, then he had to deal with people who didn’t have his same philosophy. Steve Rogers is a compelling character because he is a good man surrounded by worse men, people he needs to make better!
Ruby isn’t compelling because we don’t see her struggle. We don’t’ see her being any better than those around her. We never see her battle to gain the strength to fight evil! We’re told that she had to struggle for that power, but we never get to see it!
The moment you have to tell your audience about your character rather than organically showing them, you have a BIG fucking problem!
The Need: An Education
It’s just as boring as it sounds.
Steve Rogers needs to adapt to a world where the heroic boy-scout can’t get the job done. That, or he needs to inspire people to be as good as he is. This is an incredibly important aspect of his character that makes him compelling!
I’m sure you can guess what I’m about to say.
Ruby doesn’t have a lie to overcome. And her want is, at its core, a career. Thus, the only possible need the character can have is: “I need a degree to be qualified and get the job I want.”
Thrilling. I’m on the edge of my seat.
Now, let’s compare Ruby to a very similar, but far more effective, character: Midoriya Izuku, or Deku. He, just like Ruby, wants to make a career of saving people. But let me explain why Deku works and Ruby doesn’t.
Deku doesn’t just want to be a hero; he wants to be the best hero. Ruby simply wants a job. Deku needs to improve his knowledge, skill and his own power to become the best hero he can be. Ruby is already knowledgable on everything she needs, plenty skilled, and super powerful!
You’d think “Okay, well what about the silver eyes? Her need could be that she has to master that power in order to save the world!”
First off: they introduced that in the third season. Which is a big fucking problem. Second: she really doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t even ask about them until the sixth season! And even then, she’s only curious because a potential teacher fell out of the sky for her! If the blind old lady hadn’t come along, Ruby probably would never have even mentioned the silver eyes again in the whole series!
Worse yet, she rarely ever needs the silver eyes! In seasons four and five, she and her friends managed to get by completely fine without them! They hardly needed the silver eyes at all!
Picture this. You’re watching the Freeza saga of DBZ. Vegeta mentions that Goku may have become a Super Saiyan. It becomes clear that, if he doesn’t unlock this power, Goku will not be able to defeat Freeza. Then, when it comes time to fight Freeza, Goku struggles and flails, and he… wins. It would kind of take the power out of the whole ‘Super Saiyan’ thing, right?
That’s the silver eyes. Ruby doesn’t need them. It isn’t a necessity; it’s a convenient out for the writers.
Ruby could have been a great character. Given how simple she is, it’s a wonder that they managed to screw up this badly! Frankly, she should be able to write herself!
Characters like these are a dime a dozen! They’re used so often because they’re effective! Ruby could have been a phenomenal addition to the list! But as she stands, she isn’t a good character. She is nothing but a case study for what not to do.
But to say something positive: she has a nice design. So… that’s something, I guess.