RWBY: similarities and aura, explanation

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Fantasy anime (and anime in general) can put its characters through a lot of physical pain that most people couldn’t survive. Sometimes it’s just a visual gag for comedic effect, but other times the story has an in-universe to explain it and RWBY has a few of its own.

When RWBY started in 2013, the character’s ability to withstand beatings from big monsters and perform superhuman feats was Aura, a force field of sorts. And characters’ unique powers were known as Semblances, which are intrinsically tied to Aura.

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Over the years, RWBY’s world expanded and so too did its lore, in which distinctions were made between different kinds of powers and abilities. This led to some confusion, which led to the writers being asked questions, which resulted in answers that weren’t always conclusive. But now that Ice Queendom is giving the series a fresh start, perhaps everyone can get on the same page.

According To The Wiki

Aura is essentially the embodiment of someone’s soul, manifested most commonly to the audience as a force field. It’s the explanation for how characters are able to take on so much damage. The earliest explanation of Aura is during a fight in which Lie Ren fights a large snake monster and uses their aura as a force field and to enhance their attacks.

Jaune Arc is introduced not knowing a lot about either Aura or Semblances, making them the ideal expository surrogate. It’s through their interactions with Pyrrha Nikos that it’s learned that Aura is something that is “unlocked,” though it’s a process only seen once and never elaborated on.

Aura can be “broken,” meaning the force field is down until it is re-engaged. Sometimes Aura is treated as something that is always on, and sometimes it’s something that must be actively turned on. Regardless, it’s treated as something that requires skill to regulate to avoid wasting stamina or creating something too fragile.

Semblances, on the other hand, are superpowers that are unique to every individual, should they awaken to them. It’s not out of the question that two individuals could have abilities that seem the same and families might pass down similar powers. For instance, Weiss’ family have a hereditary summoning ability.

Like with muscles, Semblances are capable of evolving and getting stronger, and it’s not just a matter of the user getting better at using it. The Semblance can do new and cool things, expanding the user’s arsenal, like how Ruby’s ability to quickly warp through space can later allow her to split off and then reassemble.

According To The Script

The iffy thing about RWBY is that while the action might be fairly consistent in how these elements are portrayed, sometimes lines of dialog, new lore, or the writers’ own commentary muddies the waters.

The idea of Aura being something that is unlocked and that it’s a representation of the soul seems to imply a spiritual element. But a line in Volume 4 suggests not many people are religious in the world. The incantation Pyrrha uses to unlock Jaune’s Aura is never heard again, so there’s no way to confirm if this was just ceremonial or a part of the process.

Either way, the incantation’s existence at all would imply a belief in the spiritual. Additionally, the people in the world of RWBY are very hesitant to describe any of the above as “magical.” Aura and Semblances are seemingly explainable via science and therefore don’t qualify as magic

What’s Magic? What Isn’t?

First, a brief explanation of Dust, an energy source in the world of RWBY. Think of it like Materia from Final Fantasy 7; an object which can be used to cast magical spells and which can be fitted into Armor and weapons to enhance objects, imbuing them with magic. Dust works in a very similar way in combat.

Characters can use Dust to wield fire or ice and to modify their existing Semblances with elemental properties, giving attacks extra punch. But again, remember: this isn’t technically magic, even though it would be a lot simpler to say it is. Magic exists, but it’s wielded by specific people.

Essentially, if someone can do something otherworldly without it being their Semblance or without using Dust, it’s magic. It’s a tad complicated, but it makes more sense when the writers aren’t trying to explain every little detail.

Obviously, a lack of a structure to any fictional system will create problems, but over-explanation without a clear vision can be even more detrimental. Inconsistencies and plot holes arise, like how before Volume 5, the writers confirmed that if someone’s Aura is broken, then their Semblance won’t activate.

This is patently untrue, and these inconsistencies are a big reason why RWBY has come under criticism. The creators, in an attempt to clarify what is written in the scripts, will share explanations through secondary content like interviews and commentaries. But if the clarifications aren’t thought out, they can cause more problems than the initial confusion.

Back To Basics

None of this is to bash RWBY as not having merit for its action, characters, or story. It’s been beloved as long as it has for a reason. However, compared to other animated series that put more and less time into explaining their supernatural elements, RWBY can be a tad bloated.

It’s the hope that Ice Queendom, which has thus far retold the story of Volume 1 in just it’s first three episodes, might offer a fresh take that can be enjoyed by fans new and old. And in that, there is a hope that these power systems might be elaborated on with the benefit of hindsight in how to properly explain them.

Until then, remember: Aura is a soul-fueled force field, Semblances are unique powers that can evolve, Dust is just Materia from Final Fantasy 7, and none of this magic is technically magic.

RWBY & RWBY: Ice Queendom is available for legal streaming through RoosterTeeth and Crunchyroll.

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