Named after the four members of a team training at an academy to fight monsters, RWBY follows Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang as they form a sisterhood based on love and respect (peppered with bickering and teasing, of course). As the leader, Ruby unites the team through contagious joy and compassion, inspiring cohesiveness in a group of girls who normally wouldn’t get along, and reminding me of the importance of joy. The TV show makes me question if I have that kind of joy in me, how to find it when I’m lacking it, and how to inspire it in others.
Ruby’s Child-Like Joy
Students at Beacon Academy are put into teams of four and spend much of their time together training, eating, sleeping, even sharing a dorm room on their journey to become Huntsmen and Huntresses. A member of each team is named as a leader, and Ruby’s designation to leadership seems like an odd choice at first. She is two years younger than the other girls, less experienced, less aware of the outside world, less focused in class (as demonstrated by her tendency to nap during lectures). “You are so childish. And dimwitted, and hyperactive, and don’t even get me started on your fighting style,” Weiss says to her in Volume 1, Chapter 7.
Ruby is not a perfect leader (note she is also a child, and what child, much less adult, is?). But her potential lies in her selfless joy. She is constantly looking for hope in the darkness, never complaining, always offering friendship to those around her even when they are shunned by others (she makes friends with Jaune right off the get go and with Penny even though she is odd), always befriending people even when they try to shun her (her first meeting with Weiss gets them off to a rocky start when she falls onto Weiss’s luggage and Weiss snaps at her), and inspiring her team to be better.We want to build a sisterhood like RWBY, one that spreads seeds of its joyful community elsewhere or looks for it in others.
Ruby’s brand of leadership involves building people up, not tearing them down, on choosing hope even when despair surrounds her.
I love it when I meet people like Ruby. Their joy is contagious, and they spread it to the people they touch. I have had people in my life like that who build fellowship around me and I naturally get adopted into it, and it’s a wonderful feeling. During a point in my life when I felt like I couldn’t get any lower, I encountered someone like that and was invited into a small group of friends who met every week to watch a TV show and have a Bible study. The community I found myself part of helped me to breathe when I had been suffocating. I experienced joy again. The weird thing is, the joy didn’t come from me; it came from them, and all I had to do was be around them to experience it, much like Ruby’s teammates feel around her.
That experience was necessary for me. I needed a community of people to come around me and help me get through a difficult time, to feel joy again. But once I was rejuvenated, I couldn’t just stay there and benefit from others’ love without giving back. Any kind of one-sided relationship is unhealthy and loving other people involves giving as much as taking. That’s enough reason for me, but the Bible gives us even more: “God’s purpose was that the body should not be divided but rather that all of its parts should feel the same concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for each other, and that includes encouraging each other to be joyful.
That passage in Corinthians continues with, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26). Ruby’s style of joy, real joy, doesn’t mean plastering smiles on our faces when our friends are suffering and encouraging them to do the same. We celebrate when they celebrate; we suffer when they suffer; we keep looking for good among all the bad that is happening. And part of that process involves setting selfishness aside.
Selfishness vs. Sisterhood
In Volume 1 of RWBY, Weiss is angry at Ruby for being appointed leader because she thinks Ruby is incompetent. More importantly, she thinks she is better equipped to lead and was overlooked; she even tells her professor so, complaining that the headmaster made a mistake by choosing Ruby:
Weiss: So you would just blindly accept his decision even after seeing how exceptional I am?
Professor Port: With all due respect, your exceptional skill on the battlefield is matched only by your poor attitude.
Weiss: How dare you!
Professor Port: My point exactly.
(Volume 1, Chapter 10)
Weiss needs to set her selfishness aside for the good of the group, which she eventually does, declaring to Ruby that she will be “the best teammate you will ever have.”
When we focus so much on what we want, sometimes we forget about what is important. Culture is constantly telling us to feed our immediate desires—buy the things you want, work at the job you want, do what you want, find the meaning inside you… you, you, you. Focus on you and you’ll find joy and happiness, right?
Wrong. Focus on you and you’ll always be wanting more, because nothing self-promoting will ever fill that joy-shaped hole.
Selfishness is something that Weiss in particular struggles with throughout the show, but she makes an effort to listen to her professor’s advice: “Instead of fretting about what you don’t have, savor what you do… be not the best leader, but the best person you can be.”
When prejudice arises between Weiss and Blake because Weiss’s family has suffered at the hands of the White Fang (a group of terrorists that Blake used to be involved with), she applies that advice. She could hold a grudge against Blake, but she decides Blake’s past doesn’t matter to her; the only thing that matters is their relationship:
Weiss: “All I want to know is that the next time something this big comes up, you’ll come to your teammates.” (Volume 1, Chapter 16)
When a team is built on joy and trust, on focusing on what is good like Ruby does, members should support each other even without the “leader’s” direction. We see that happening here with Weiss and Blake, and we see it happen throughout the show with other members of the sisterhood. If you’ve been part of any sort of group and had members reach out to you outside of event nights, you might know how meaningful that kind of interaction can be. It’s something that should be happening in every single church and small group, because that kind of community is what Jesus wants us to have (see Acts 2 for an example). There’s something special about knowing someone cares about your wellbeing, not because they have to, but because they choose to.
Joy through Trials
Ruby’s joy in life is particularly challenged in Volume 4 when Team RWBY is broken up. She has to go on fighting against the evil threatening the land with the death of a companion fresh in her mind, and her teammates no longer by her side. Yet somehow she manages to hold on to courage and joy even when things are crashing down around her. She is sad and scared—you see it in her eyes when she watches Jaune practicing his sword to Pyrrha’s recording and when Qrow gets injured—but she doesn’t let that stop her from pulling a community around her anyway.
“It’s scary not knowing what’s going to happen next. And the things we do know now—just how bad it can get—almost makes it all worse,” she says in a letter to Yang.
Holding on to feelings of happiness during difficult times is often impossible. And that’s fine, because we don’t have to be happy all the time. I often have to remind myself that it is okay to not feel okay; telling myself that truth can help me find peace because it releases the guilt that I’m not “feeling” happy. I have this idea in my head that I should constantly be smiling because, even if something bad happens to me, there’s always someone else off worse and I should be thankful all the time and thankfulness should equal happy feelings and, and, and… and then I remind myself it’s okay to not feel okay. The joy we can hold on to has more to do with the fact that we are blessed by God than it does with feeling a specific emotion. It is a peace and a stability that we find through faith in something greater than ourselves, when we rejoice in something greater than ourselves.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).
The people Peter is writing this letter to were “exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (v. 1), meaning persecuted Christians. They had everything taken away from them. They were probably not feeling very happy. But Peter reminds them that the source of their joy—Jesus—can never be taken away from them and they can find comfort in that, just like Ruby finds comfort in her purpose and refuses to give in to despair.
“You now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22).
Sometimes we have people around us who lead us to joy, and we can accept that guidance with friendship and humility. Other times, we need to take on the role of Ruby and lead. And when we do, it can’t just be about us. We want to build a sisterhood like RWBY, who, even though they get separated in Volume 4, end up spreading seeds of that joyful community elsewhere or looking for it in others.
“We’ve all lost something and I’ve seen what loss can do to people,” Ruby writes, “but if we gave up every time we lost, then we’d never be able to move forward. We’d never have a chance to see what beautiful things the future might have waiting for us. We’d never have the strength to change, whether it’s ourselves or the world around us, and we’d never be there for other people who might one day be lost without us.”
Giving up is easy. Choosing joy is the difficult path, especially when it means not just focusing on your own journey but taking responsibility for others as well. I want to be like Ruby with her child-like joy, refusing to give up on her faith, hoping that she can make a difference even when the future is dark. And I hope, if I make that choice, I can inspire that kind of joy in others too, especially my sisters, as we fight the world’s monsters together.