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RWBY: The Official Manga Volume 1

Ever since anime and manga first made their way west, they have been inspiring artists to want to create their own. Of the many western made animation series that has adopted an 'anime-style' look, Rooster Teeth's RWBY has managed something that few have. The action fantasy series, which was created by the late Monty Oum, was actually imported to Japan, where it built up quite a following, with some episodes even screening in cinemas. The series was then adapted into manga form by real Japanese manga artists not once but three times.

RWBY: The Official Manga is the third comic series to be spun off the show and is written and drawn by new mangaka Bunta Kinami, making their professional debut. However, this is the first one to be a direct adaptation of the animation, with Kinami rewriting and expanding the story to make it a better fit for the comic medium. The manga was published simultaneously in Japanese and English, and the first compiled volume was released in digital and paperback by Viz on July 21 2020.

The first volume takes us back to the very beginning, making it accessible both for long-time fans of the series and those who are completely new to the story. RWBY takes place in a fantasy world that takes its inspiration from Fairy Tales and other western fantasies. In the world of Remnant, warriors called Huntsman and Huntresses are trained in prestigious Academies to protect the people from malevolent beasties called the Grimm. We are introduced to Ruby Rose (not the Hollywood actress) a 15-year old whose past performance has seen her fast-tracked to the Academy.  Ruby soon runs into Weiss Schnee, a snooty 'princess' and heir to one of the Kingdom's most prominent families, Blake Belladonna, a cat-eared half-human Fauna and Ruby's half-sister, Yang Xiao Long.

The Acadamy's instructors throw the students in at the deep end, sending them on a mission to bring back an artefact. The journey there will see them come into conflict with several deadly Grimm, and the would-be huntresses must learn to work together. The results will decide who they will be partnered with for the next several years, with the enrolees assigned into groups of four. No prizes for guessing who Ruby ends partnered up with.

Kinami adapts the designs of the characters well for the page, keeping their looks distinctive. However, they've not gone for a straight-forward rendering of 'anime-style' artwork, opting for a far more distinctive approach. Rather than the strong lines of much mainstream manga, it has a looser, more sketchy look. The intricate, finely detailed penmanship recalls nothing so much as Hayao Miyazaki's original manga of Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. This is particularly evident in the look of the wonderfully designed Grimm, which exude a convincing air of menace and convey an awesome sense of scale, reminiscent of the Ohmu of Nausicaa's world. In depicting the Grimm as a real threat, the manga is a definite success. The artwork also lends a particular kinetic flair to the action sequences, with impressive splash pages that drive the story forward at quite a pace.

Oum's world is a creative and richly detailed one. Kinami does a fine job of introducing newcomers in this volume, although it is clear that we've only just scratched the surface. The characterisation is drawn with some fairly broad stokes- Ruby is enthusiastic and impetuous, Weiss is snooty but noble and so on- but it all works well enough.

At times Kinami truly takes advantage of the comics medium, such as in the epic feel of the battle sequences. Elsewhere, though it feels like there a missed opportunities. It feels like the Academy only has eight students total- forgivable enough in animation where it may be caused by budget and practical concerns- but here it just feels odd.

Such complaints are minor though, in an impressive debut volume overall. It comes recommended to any big RWBY fan looking for a chance to revisit the story in a way you've never seen before. It's also a great place to begin if you've been meaning to tip your toes into the world of RWBY but just don't know where to start. Whichever group describes you, it's a good read.