Infinite and Unbound: The Power of RWBY’s Music
Note: This is a personal article and includes themes of mental illness, identity struggle, and other kinds of heavy topics. If you’re sensitive to these sorts of things, this may not be the article for you.
RWBY is a fandom divided into innumerable factions. Almost anything you say will generally be met with vehement disagreement at best and outright vitriol and even death threats at worst.
However, there is one thing even many of the most ardent of haters and even the most deeply in love with the series can agree on: the music is freaking fantastic and the best part of the series. I’m sure there will be people out there that do disagree, but it’s one of the few things most people can seem to agree on.
And, for me, that music has led me on a personal journey that I never imagined it would.
This is my journey with the series and why it means so much to me.
I was a long-time Tumblr user and, after Volumes 1 and 2 came out, I was aware of the series existing. It was obviously very popular at the time and it was to the point I had to put the RWBY tag into my blacklist just from seeing it everywhere. I didn’t hate the series; it was just a bit of overexposure making it a little annoying to see.
However, there was one night between Volumes 2 and 3 where I hadn’t slept very well (maybe, like, four hours). When I get like this, usually only one thing can hold my attention. And finding that thing can be very, very hard. However, one of my best friends suggested I check out this series called “RWBY.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s pretty short, shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon,” he said.
I watched them and, yeah, I liked it. I didn’t find it to hook and reel me in like so many other series, but I liked it well enough.
During that time, I was vaguely aware of people talking about the creator, Monty, passing away.
“Oh, that’s kinda sad,” said past me before moving on and not being affected whatsoever.
The next three volumes roll around and I watch them casually, following week to week. I wasn’t super invested, but, as said, it was a series I liked well enough.
So how did I go from “liking it well enough” to writing exhaustive analytical essays on Yang’s PTSD?
Three words: Path to Isolation.
I don’t remember how or why, but I rewatched the V5 Weiss character short and the vocal track actually caught my attention at that time. It…it hit me pretty close to home in a big way. I’ve struggled with a lot of identity issues. From being possibly bi or gay to being nonbinary to struggling with religion due to those and other things, that song hit me so hard. I’d used Reflection from Mulan as my own personal anthem for years at that point. It was the song I held closest to my heart because it just followed my own personal journey.
And then I learned there were full soundtracks.
My descent into RWBY hell had begun.
I ate up the rest of the soundtracks while waiting for the release of the V5 one with bated breath. I needed Path to Isolation in full and, well, it didn’t disappoint when I did finally hear it.
However, while listening to the rest of the songs, the rest of Weiss’ hit me even harder. Each and every one of her songs followed my own personal journey with identity. I learned to sing them. I poured my heart and soul into them along with the vast majority of RWBY’s other songs. They came to mean the world to me.
In March of 2018, I finally decided to jump into writing the canon RWBY characters. I started with Weiss in an RP that now surpasses 100,000 words. I couldn’t get enough of writing these characters. My main partner and I came up with AU after AU after AU for them (and still do), AUs we love, AUs that make us cry, ones that make us laugh. There’s always some part that makes us cry, but we still have fun even through the pain.
I started writing fanfiction, slowly building my own take on the universe piece by piece. I posted something every week for months. I even started an Instagram to promote my fics there.
However, things came to a screeching halt just a couple of months later in the summer. I was at my dojo and did a backwards roll, smacking the bottom of my mat shoe into my right wrist. For the next week or so, it hurt pretty badly and I wore my brace to make it feel not quite as bad.
To stop for just one moment, let me explain something. I’m a very traditional sort of author. I write all of my stories by hand, then type them. It’s a tedious process, but it’s just how I’ve done things for twenty years and continue to do so. However, this caused me to develop tendonitis in my right arm. It was annoying as I had to wear the aforementioned brace, but it wasn’t debilitating.
However, when the pain continued on for that week, it was obvious something had happened. I had an x-ray taken at urgent care and I had actually manages to break off a chip of bone from the sheer force of my kick. It meant I couldn’t write by hand.
And that started one of the worst downward spirals of depression in my life.
I stagnated for basically the next year. I didn’t move up from my red belt in my dojo. Our testing cycle for a new belt is two months. I started struggling in school. I took an Incomplete in one of the classes I need for my major.
I gave up on writing fanfics, the thing that brings me the most joy, the thing that is my identity and how I make sense of the world. However, I did keep roleplaying which helped keep me doing some sort of writing. I continued listening to the music, continued committing the songs to heart. Songs like Path to Isolation and All That Matters gave me solace in the darkness of my mind.
And then, the last chapter of Volume 6 rolled around.
Once again, I found myself waiting with bated breath for a song from the volume—this time, Indomitable. It was only a thirty second clip, but just from the way things were written, I knew it’d be something special. I listened to that one clip so many times I had it memorised down to the instrumentation.
And in June of last year, it came out and anybody that knows the fandom…there was not a goddamn dry eye when they listened to that song. It took me about three listens to fully understand the lyrics, but when I did, I bawled like a baby. Within twelve hours of the release, I was able to sing along with transcribed lyrics pretty well.
That song literally saved me from myself.
It made me remember that only I could create my own future, only I could push myself forward. People like my teachers at my dojo and my family could support me, but it was only through my own efforts that I could move forward.
I applied myself at my dojo and moved up the next two belts until I got to Level 3.
I started focusing in on the research for a massive RWBY AU I love. I didn’t start actually writing again, but I at least started on something related to fic again.
I got back into school and enjoyed the fall 2019 semester so much.
My life felt so much brighter and I had home again, a hope that had eluded me for over a year.
Why didn’t I start writing fic again after that?
Anxiety and perfectionism.
I have very high standards for myself with my writing and, after so long, I knew I wouldn’t live up to them. I knew it’d be awful so I just keep putting it off and putting it off. I didn’t want to disappoint my readers. I didn’t want to disappoint myself.
But, because of the quarantine, I’ve had literally no excuse to not write. And so I’ve been doing that. My writing is about as bad as I thought it’d be, but you know what? That’s okay. You sometimes just have to be a beginner again and give yourself permission to be horrible. Just learning to enjoy the act of creation again took a few weeks, but I’m there again now. I look forward to writing on my specialty tablet and seeing where the story I’m working on now (a Snowbird fic) will take me. I want to see what will happen to Winter and Qrow next. I want to know how he’ll gain her trust. My prose skills will return in time.
Unfortunately, that’s just been in the past couple of weeks. I did have a breakdown about a month ago where I just gave into the doubt and anxiety. I didn’t want to be a subpar writer when I know I can be so much more. It was one of my lowest periods since I started to feel so much better.
I was heading to work and put on my long playlist (800+ entries) and the third song on it was Indomitable. Once again, the song that brought me out of my depression was there for me. So, after that, I put on my “Inspiration” playlist at work (I clean buildings) which includes songs like Rising, Let’s Just Live, Armed and Ready, and others to remind me that I control my destiny, I choose to move forward with things and that I shouldn’t be held down even by myself.
I can honestly never, ever thank Jeff and Casey Lee Williams enough for this fantastic music. It’s touched the hearts of myself and my others deeply, in ways both tangible and intangible. Even if all of the songs don’t resonate, those that do have struck a chord deep in my heart that will reverberate for the rest of my life.