RWBYthe online smash from Austin’s Rooster Teeth, gets called an American anime a lot, and across its eight seasons the influence of Japanese animation is undeniable. Now Japan is returning the love with a new big-budget, Japanese-produced spinoff, RWBY: Ice Queendom. Kerry Shawcross, showrunner for the main RWBY series, called this milestone in the show’s history “a real dream come true.”
Animated by Shaft, the studio behind 2018’s Fireworks, Ice Queendom will debut on Japanese television July 3 (U.S. audiences will be able to stream it via Crunchyroll). However, before that, hometown audiences will get a special theatrical preview as part of RTX, Rooster Teeth’s massive fan expo taking over Downtown Austin this weekend.
The original Austin-made RWBY pulled off the impossible in 2016 when it got theatrical distribution in Japan – a feat unheard of for an American-produced anime-style show. But getting a Japanese-produced reboot is a near-miraculous achievement, and it wasn’t something Rooster Teeth was pitching. “This happened because they were interested,” said Shawcross. “So many people in that industry have enjoyed RWBYand wanted to work with it and with us, that’s just an honor itself.”
This isn’t the first RWBY spinoff. The main show focuses on magical adventures in the realm of Remnant, where four young women face supernatural forces and hidden political agendas. Then there’s RWBY Chibifeaturing cutesified versions of the characters in comedy skits, and RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnantan anthology of free-standing short stories. But this is the first show produced outside of Rooster Teeth itself. Shawcross described working with their Japanese counterparts as deeply respectful and productive. “It would have been really easy for them to try to get the name RWBY from us and the likeness of the characters and do their own thing, but that’s not what they did, not what they wanted to do.”
“So many people in that industry have enjoyed RWBY, and wanted to work with it and with us, that’s just an honor itself.” – Kerry Shawcross
Eddy Rivas, who has co-written RWBY since season 7, definitely appreciates the feedback loop that Ice Queendom creates. “RWBY was a show that had a lot of homages to Japanese animation,” he said, “but now to have a Japanese animation company doing it in their style, also paying homage to it, is weird.”
RWBY: Ice Queendom isn’t a complete reboot. Instead, Senior Brand Director Christine Brent called its story arc “continuity-adjacent.” The opening episodes are a redux of the first two seasons of the original show, before launching a new story, set between seasons 2 and 3, “but it does divert off the core timeline.” That’s nothing new to anime fans: In the blockbuster Dragon Ball franchise, fans often regard characters not created by manga artist Akira Toriyama as non-canon, while the One Piece anime outpaced publication of the source manga, and so had to functionally riff. However, while the opening episodes of Ice Queendom are not a “one-for-one adaptation” of the first two seasons of RWBYBrent said, “these characters are part of our universe.”
The special screening will kick off the three days of in-person RTX, the first time the team will able to reconnect with their famously loyal Rooster Teeth fan base since 2019. After two years of online RTXs, there are a few jitters about facing crowds numbering in the thousands. “I still feel socially awkward – which is how I felt before,” said Shawcross, “but I’m excited.”
For Brent, that’s what makes RTX special. “We’re nerds. We love games. We love anime, We love all this stuff, and it’s the culture. We’re all just getting together and being socially awkward at the same time.”
RTX 2022, July 1-3. Passes and info at rtxevent.com. RWBY: Ice Queendom will screen as part of the RTX First Night preview: Thu., June 30, 5pm, Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. Also, join Shawcross and Rivas at the RWBY season 9 preview panel Fri., July 1, 12:30pm, Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez, Ballroom D.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 1, 2022 with the headline: Rooster Teeth’s RWBY Goes to Japan