I think Ruby Rose has two things most TV show “heroes” these days are sorely lacking: The first is a High-Caliber Sniper-Scythe. The second is a genuine understanding of what it really means to be a hero.
The full quote I took this essay’s title from is Ozpin’s opening monologue to the series, an answer to the villainous cynicism of Salen warning Humankind that they can’t hope to overcome her through force of arms.
“But perhaps victory is in the simpler things that you've long forgotten; things that require a smaller, more honest soul.”
RWBY may not be a Christian series, but I feel that’s a statement very in keeping with our beliefs. After all, wasn’t it the son of a humble carpenter who saved our world? The Alpha and Omega, the one above all, humbling himself to the form of a lowly man: able to feel pain, sorrow, hunger, thirst, temptation and, ultimately, death, all to save a race of backsliding sinners. Victory in a small, honest soul indeed.
But back to Ruby Rose: Honestly, I could probably fill a small book with nothing but my ravings for this character. But instead, I’ll let the show do the talking for me: this conversation, between Ruby and Blake in The Shining Beacon Pt.2, is one of my favorite from any show:
“As a girl, I wanted to be just like those heroes in the books... Someone who fought for what was right, and protected people who couldn't protect themselves!”
As far as mission statements go, this has few equals, deceptively simple as it may be. Ruby doesn’t share her teammates strong motivations: She’s not out to redeem her family name, atone for past sins, find her mother, prove her worth, fulfill some higher duty or even just because she has nowhere else to go. She’s becoming a Huntress because that’s where she feels she’ll do the most good: nothing more, nothing less.
Ruby could easily be mistaken for a naive little girl, given how badly she fanboys over Huntsmen/Huntresses and how bright her worldview is, but too dismiss her as such would be a dangerous underestimation.
Look at the family she comes from: her mother died on a mission, her father was heartbroken and emotionally crippled for years, her uncle is a cynical, bitter alcoholic and her step mother straight up abandoned her family. All of these were Huntsmen/Huntresses: it’s a wonder Ruby hold the job in anything but contempt.
But the thing about Ruby is that, like all her teammates, she sees being a Huntress as just a means to an end. Oh sure, she’s in love with the fairy tale aspect, but ultimately she chose this life because she knows it’s where she can do the most good, combat easily being her area of expertise.
Compare her expertise with weapons to her difficulty making friends: her awkwardness at a dance to her grace while fighting for her life. Ruby is at home on the battlefield and she knows it: the only other career she is ever mentioned as considering was Police Officer, and even that could place her in fights on a regular basis (Especially in a World like Remanent).
Ruby’s innocence is not ignorance: She wasn’t really old enough to understand what was happening when her mother died, but she certainly was for everyone she lost in the Fall of Beacon. Slain friends, a physically and spiritually broken sister, a splintered teams and a long, arduous journey constantly filled with pain and difficulty. And at the end of it all, she’s just as defiant as she was when Roman gave her that speech aboard the airship, so very long ago.
She’s grown, certainly. She now acknowledges that bad things can happen just because, that there’s a nearly invincible foe looming on the horizon and that it will take more than Crescent Rose and Silver Eyes to defeat it. But all that has just redoubled her will, her resolve to never bow to evil and to battle it all costs.
Even more impressively, she still considers that a secondary motive. She’s not a broken warrior, out to avenge everything she’s lost. She is still the same, dorky fifteen (Well, sixteen now) year old girl just trying to do what’s right. Yes, times have gotten dark, but she’s fighting both out of a remembrance for the good times that came before, and a hope that those can come again.
As she tell’s her sister, it’s not for herself, or for the people she’s already lost, but for the people she hasn’t lost yet. Salem and associates be warned: Ruby Rose has placed her friends, family and the World of Remanent under her protection, and she will fight to the last to defend them.
Now, of course, there are alternate views. Blake’s, for instance.
“That's very ambitious for a child. Unfortunately, the real world isn't the same as a fairy tale.”
Blake is somehow who already knows just how dark the world can be. Even more, she has had a hand, however small, in making it that way. Happily ever afters would be nice, but she has mistakes to fix first. And don’t get me wrong: that’s an almost equally powerful motivation as Ruby’s.
A touch of personal, even selfish, motives to their hero can go a long way towards humanizing your hero. We all want to relate to our idols, and “It’s the right thing to do!” is a pretty lofty motivation. I think this is best demonstrated with an exchange from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy:
“Why would you want to save the Galaxy?”
“Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”
It really is okay to act out of greed every now and then: All things in moderation after all. We may not look up to the Guardians as much as we do Superman, but I think we all feel like the former a lot more frequently than we do the later. Sometimes, neutrality just isn’t an option: evil cares nothing for “Live and let live” policies after all. They may not destroy/subjugate you at first, but that’s only because it’d be too much effort. Rest assured, someday you will bow to them, or else perish.
Sometimes, regardless of how squeaky clean your personal life may or may not be, you have to stand up and defend you and your own. And if you save some other people along the way? Hey, at least they owe you a favour in the future. Not heroic, but definitely realistic.
And then there are people like Blake (Or, to continue the Superhero themes, Batman and Spiderman) who have deeply personal reason for their heroism, that may not be selfish exactly, but still much darker than the classical storybook hero.
But we’ll get to Blake later. For now, we’re looking at Ruby, and she has her own response for when she’s told the world if far to evil a place for optimism like her’s to realistically exist.
“Well, that's why we're here! To make it better.”
I’ll be honest: when she said that, I wanted to hug her just as badly as Yang did. In a time where the general approach to superheroes, and fiction in general, seems to be “realistic!” and “adult!”, a character who just really gets what I love to see in a fictional hero makes me borderline giddy.
Yes, the world is a dark, often hopeless place. But that’s not what the hero should focus on! They aren’t there to become just another link in some cosmic chain of misery and hurt. They’re there to be lights in the darkness, to be beacons of hope, to be better and make others want to be better, in and out of Universe.
They’re there to, well, fight for what is right and protect people who can't protect themselves! I honestly can’t say it better than that. And if I tried, I couldn’t come up with a better candidate for this mindset than miss Ruby Rose.
I honestly don’t want every hero to be like her: Tortured avengers and Idiots trying to save their homes are always a joy to watch. But a few more like her certainly wouldn’t go amiss...