James Ironwood: Tin Man’s Heart

Heads up! Spoilers below.

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It doesn’t take a lot of digging to see that Ironwood is a man who tends to approach tasks as if he’s the only one capable of doing anything. Consider his very first appearance with a fleet at his side, which he’d clearly done without consulting anyone else.

And he held firm when he was with Ozpin, who explained why this display of force was damaging to their goal of peace. Ironwood is a self-reliant, confident (see also: arrogant) man who is certain that he has the right idea and everything under control.

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He was warm and friendly when he first arrived at Ozpin’s office, but he quickly became serious when the fleet was mentioned. Although he did call Ozpin “Oz” when trying to plead his case for bringing those ships and forces, he was overall insulted that he was being questioned.

And in return, when Ozpin said they should both continue to train the best Hunters and Huntresses they can, Ironwood openly questioned Ozpin:

“But ask yourself this: Do you honestly believe your children can win a war?”

From Ironwood’s perspective, he’d taken action that the people of Vale needed to feel safe. The reaction he got seemed unappreciative and shortsighted for someone like himself, who does better with tactics as a whole than with how public morale truly works. As he said:

“When they look to the sky and see my fleet, they feel safe, and our enemies will feel our strength.”

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So we can agree that Ironwood places action as the highest priority and indeed, an ideal trait in a leader. Going back to young Ironwood for a moment, I’d like to reflect on how that impacted him when combined with his tendency to take on tasks by himself.

Now it’s not been confirmed how Ironwood was so heavily injured as to require prosthetics for the majority of the right side of his body, but I venture that it was Ironwood overrating himself in his early career as a military man.

He sees his judgment as best, and he doubts those who don’t agree with him – if indeed he asks for a second opinion at all – and that’s as an adult, general, and headmaster.

Now imagine younger Ironwood with even less experience. If he had an opportunity to seize a bad situation and turn it around in what he envisioned as a display of cunning as well as strength, I am positive he would jump on it.

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And when the worst happened, and he sustained such heavy injuries, what did Ironwood do? He rebuilt his body, most likely as soon as he was able to, and he continued to fight. Only now he was the man behind the front lines leading other soldiers, and Ironwood had turned a loss into a gain.

Action is always the determiner for Ironwood, and he made all that happen on his own (at least in his eyes). If this is at all true, he learned very little in the long run from the mistake that cost him half his body. He only seemed to hold more strongly that this loss was not enough to stop him, and his judgment could still be held in high regard. He was and is his own greatest ideal.

But there are distinctions that set him apart from the typical mighty lone wolf (and from the “Tin Man” of Wizard of Oz that inspired his role and character). He puts others first in his actions, he feels loyalty in his own way, and he does have a heart buried under that steely general’s facade.

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First, let’s look at how he puts others first in action. Think of Penny (and try not to cry) and the guards she always had with her to keep her safe. She was more than capable of protecting herself, but he still went to that length to make sure she was never in harm’s way.

This type of protection denies her freedom to have choices and make friends, however. This is standard behavior for Ironwood believing he always knows best. Yes, she would be in danger if she was publicly known to be a robotic fighter child from Atlas. But he designed her to feel, to act like a person, and he wasn’t fully letting her be one by doing that.

Next up, get your tissues and consider his gift to Yang.

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He didn’t come in person to deliver it, he just made it and sent it. This is definitely part confidence – he was certain she would accept and it would turn her life back around like it did for him – but that certainty once again eclipsed even the idea that she might not be ready or refuse.

Bearing in mind that someone who is about half prosthetics and as I said, he likely did that the moment he could, Ironwood may be less inclined to think of her not being ready (although he does have the capacity to see things from another person’s perspective, it’s not his strongest skill).

So in action, he puts the people of Vale, Penny, and Yang first – but he overlooks their feelings in the process. He doesn’t realize a fleet will instill worry, that guards will hamper freedom, or that a new arm might not be what Yang really needs right then.

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But he does feel loyalty to a group, and his emotions do run deep. Yang’s robotic arm from Ironwood displays this on two counts. He learned a hard lesson in humility during volume 3 at the battle of Beacon. It’s not a far stretch to think Ironwood felt responsible for what happened, and hence why the arm was free of charge for her.

He’d lost hundreds of robotic soldiers, several ships, and at least two heavy mechs (Atlesian Paladin-290s) in the fight at Beacon. Not to mention any expenses he put into repairs to the city itself.

Ironwood had taken a serious financial hit, and he was in no position to be giving away top line prosthetics. Even after the time skip, that was a considerable chunk of change he’d lost along with most of Atlas’ reputation and trust.

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But among the guilt over the fall of Beacon and so many preventable deaths, there was Yang – a student of Ozpin’s and one person he could personally reach out to and set things right for. Can’t bring back Pyrrha, Penny, Ozpin, or the Fall Maiden, but this young Huntress could have two arms again. This gesture was Ironwood expressing his remorse as much as it was a display of confidence.

And I would be remiss in my analysis of Ironwood’s emotional state if I didn’t mention the meeting with Glynda and Qrow during the fight at Beacon. When Qrow changed his weapon to the scythe and seemed to be scowling at Ironwood, James immediately tried to convince him that the attack wasn’t him.

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I’ve linked the ten minute mark in this video, so you can see the full scene and have the delight of hearing the genuine concern in his voice when he calls out to Qrow (if you so choose).

Glynda, Ozpin, and Qrow are among the few people Ironwood truly considers friends, even if they don’t have the normal friendship where you’re generally nice to each other… He would be hurt to find that Qrow did not trust him.

At the threat of harm, Ironwood’s reaction was to explain and when he thought Qrow meant to attack him, he turned his pistol around to use it non-fatally (when he truly believed that Qrow had every intention of attacking him to kill or at least maim).

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And if there was any doubt remaining that Ironwood does indeed care for the people he holds close, there’s this moment after Qrow teasingly calls him an idiot and says he knows this wasn’t Ironwood.

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Just look at that exhausted relief that he still had their trust, and yes, a touch of injury to his vulnerable ego that he’d shown those emotions so readily. As an established man of action, he was back on his feet and giving out orders with very little prompting, but the moment was there.

On that subject, I do want to point out that he is also prone to showing his mental state through his overall appearance. Consider James Ironwood of volume 2 (left) to the James Ironwood of volume 4 (right):

 

In volume 4, he has stubble, his clothing is slightly less immaculate than it was, his hair is messier, and overall, this is a man with more on his mind than how he looks.

But he is still Ironwood. He is a general and headmaster and the lovable jerk we remember, even in his brief appearance. When Jacques Schnee questions him, he yields even less than he did with Ozpin by directly calling Jacques out on making his choices about himself, not about Atlas:

JS: “I’m not talking about the good of my company, I’m talking about the good of Atlas, our entire kingdom!”

JI: “That is a load of garbage, and you know it.”

The video is linked here at the start of the discussion if you want to hear Jacques Schnee being put in his place. I know I never tire of it.

But he shows a softness and compassion to Weiss from the moment she entered their meeting room, and he told her she always had a place at Atlas Academy, and that they would be in session before she knew it.

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He still walks that line of firm and sure of himself, but he’s more sincere in his kindness than he was in the past. He’s able to express that sentiment to her directly and immediately after having exchanged harsh words with her father.

That slight but large shift in him after the fall of Beacon is an interesting piece in his development, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that affects his actions going forward.


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Thank you for reading!

Bad Luck Charm: Analysis

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This is Qrow’s theme song, and I’ve loved it since I first heard it. Here’s my take on a closer look at this song and its lyrics!

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Pain

Is your reward for being near me.

Fate

Won’t be your friend when I’m around.

Blame

Me for the tragedies that follow.

Grave

The situations that surround.

When he’s explaining his semblance to Ruby and the others in Volume 4, Episode 8: A Much Needed Talk, Qrow starts with, “Look, this has nothing to do with trust.”

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This is his niece he’s talking to, and she’s known him her whole life. She never knew his semblance until then and he did not want her to. Based on that response and these lyrics, it’s clear that Qrow is hurt by the mutual knowledge that he’s the embodiment of bad luck.

But he masks that. Ruby thought he wasn’t around due to his work, which was an easy defense. As soon as keeping her safe was the center of his work, that shield broke down – she was hurt that he was following them rather than traveling with them.

Yet he tried to mask it as long as he could, even if he explained as soon as it was putting her in danger during the fight with Tyrian rather than continue to hide it.

Firstly, this is a sign that when it comes to loved ones, Qrow will put their feelings ahead of his own. Did it hide this from her for her entire life? Yes. But when she asked him directly why he didn’t travel with her and why he didn’t trust her, he told her the truth immediately. (As I said, he did try to tell her during the fight with Tyrian, but, well, they were fighting.)

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She’s young and nowhere near his skill level as a fighter. He could have just said he didn’t trust her to protect his own feelings. But he didn’t, because her knowing that she had his trust meant more than saving himself the pain of her finally knowing he’s literal bad luck.

Secondly, this need to shield the truth is hinted at by comparing the first pair of stanzas:

Pain

Is your reward for being near me.

Fate

Won’t be your friend when I’m around.

To the second pair:

Blame

Me for the tragedies that follow.

Grave

The situations that surround.

All four start with negative concept words: pain, fate, blame, grave. (Note: Fate has a mixed definition that can be positive or negative, but typically has a connotation of foreboding. Consider “destiny” as a synonym with the opposite connotation that is usually positive but can be negative.)

The first two stanzas are followed by positive concept words: reward, friend. You can see a raw regret in the contrast of those words. You want to keep Qrow company, you want to make him happy? Pain is your reward for your compassion, and fate won’t be your friend if you’re his friend. No one can stand that forever.

Whether Qrow himself can’t stand to watch them suffer anymore, or they can’t take the constant barrage, they will have to go. Certainly he can control his semblance like anyone else can – Ruby isn’t always erupting into rose petals – but he can’t shut his off. Only control how long before someone or something is affected.

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With that in mind, consider the third and fourth stanzas, which follow the initial concept words with more negative concept words: tragedies, situations that surround. This is the bristly defense of one who would rather you blame him and see him as a grave reminder than feel the constant regret of not being able to be close because he’s intrinsically bad news.

He is close to very few people for that reason. He can only handle missing people he loves so much. The fewer there are, and the fewer who know what his semblance is, the better. It’s easier to dull that pain through their ignorance. If they don’t know why he has to leave, he doesn’t have to see his regret mirrored in their eyes – and he can bury his feelings that way.

He can only ever see the ones he loves being happy from across the street through two windows. And that’s easier for him if they don’t know why he’s distant.

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I’m a harbinger,

I cannot lie,

I will change the color of your life.

This touches again on the fact that Qrow won’t lie about his semblance, only conceal it as long as he can. The only thing worse for him than being bad luck is not telling his loved ones that he is that when they ask or when it puts them in danger.

And for those of you who don’t know the exact definition of harbinger, it’s “a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another” (source: Google dictionary). Its origins as a word are from an Old Saxon word meaning “army” and in its second evolution, it meant “shelter for an army” (source: Google dictionary).

Armies are a sign of war, and that could mean peace or loss depending on which side of the war you’re on. Just as Qrow is a sign of success if he’s fighting with you (at a safe distance) or a sign of your demise if you’re his opponent.

He’s impossible to truly beat because you’ll lose something if he’s around – even if it’s not the fight. And it only takes about 20 seconds into the fight with Tyrian for bad luck to start having an area effect:

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The building is breaking apart in the background, you can see it on the right side of the frame.

But you’ll notice that “harbinger” from its origin definition to present definition isn’t necessarily a negative word. When Qrow gets to use his semblance to protect those he loves for once, he feels an almost savage joy doing it.

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His expression after Tyrian sees the building breaking.

I don’t mean to bring you pain,

But I will, just why, I can’t explain.

I am no one’s blessing,

I’ll just bring you harm.

This section of the lyrics represents more of his inability to shut his semblance off. There’s a feeling of unfairness to his description of his semblance. At the campsite later in the above-mentioned episode, Qrow says his semblance is “always there, whether I like it or not”.

And this is said as in a tired tone, a worn attempt at seeming neutral about it when it’s clear he’s bothered but can’t bring himself to be.

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And there are times it works for him, and he revels in it. Like he says, it “comes in real handy when I’m fighting an enemy”. The main reference for this that I’ve seen is when Tyrian falls through the roof during their battle, but I argue that it goes further.

Qrow had been using his semblance consciously that entire fight, and he had let loose to protect Ruby and her friends. I believe that Tyrian losing his tail was made possible by Qrow’s semblance.

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Ruby is skilled and observant, although relatively inexperienced next to Tyrian. He had to have known his tail was a weak point and he would’ve guarded it heavily. During the fight, Tyrian was against anywhere from 1 to 3 opponents without any sign of trouble.

But Qrow’s semblance allowed for that one opening when Tyrian let his guard down and Ruby saw it, and she struck. Qrow brings harm to people one way or another, and it can be subtle as well as obvious.

Compare that to the beam that almost fell on Ruby during that same fight. He was there to protect her and he put all he had into it, and that was just the problem. He is no one’s blessing, and he’ll bring harm to everyone – even those he aims to save.

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I’m a cursed black cat,

There are two layers to this as well. Black cats are considered unlucky in many cultures (although they are considered lucky in a few, furthering the duality of Qrow, his semblance, and his perspective on himself).

But saying he’s a cursed black cat takes that widespread opinion of misfortune to another level. Not only is he a bad omen, but a cursed one. That is some deep loathing for himself, and honestly, it makes sense.

I don’t have any way to prove that all semblances appear at birth, but Qrow says his semblance is how he got his name – by the bird being considered a sign of bad luck in superstition. So from the very first day he was alive, they somehow knew.

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But when it only takes 20 seconds to take effect, you can imagine how quickly they realized it was him. And when it’s your namesake, there can be no escape from the regret from friends or hatred from rivals that he’d have to face for all of his formative years.

I’m an albatross,

An albatross also has mixed meaning for those who don’t know their sailors’ lore. The bird itself is fine, and it’s killing the bird that’s bad luck.

“The albatross as a superstitious relic is referenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s well-known poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. It is considered very unlucky to kill an albatross; in Coleridge’s poem, the narrator killed the bird and his fellow sailors eventually force him to wear the dead bird around his neck.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

An albatross has done no wrong itself, but it’s regarded as a burden all the same. His semblance makes him an albatross to those around him even though he himself did nothing to deserve that. Another echo of the bitterness and resignation he feels regarding his semblance.

I’m a mirror broken,

“Mirror superstitions probably evolved from the time when the first humans saw their reflections in a pool of water, believed that the image in a water was their actual soul and to endanger it would mean risking injury to the other self.” (Source: MirrorHistory.com.)

The other self for Qrow is the friend, the uncle, the brother-in-law. The person he can never truly be or get comfortable being because he is a mirror broken.

Quoting the full description of his semblance at the campsite, Qrow said, “comes in real handy when I’m fighting an enemy… makes it a little hard on friends… and family.” And he looks straight at Ruby when he says this, because most of this is for her.

In contrast to Raven, his family means everything to him (which you see in his sarcastic way of calling her mom of the year in their conversation at the tavern).

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Sad to say,

I’m your bad luck charm.

He can’t have a family, he can’t have friends. Protecting those who can do these things, that’s all Qrow has. I’m not at all surprised in light of all this that he chose to become a Hunter.

He is your bad luck charm against your enemies, and he makes sure your friends and family are safe so you can live the life he never will. Sad to say indeed – he can’t be there for any of your happy daily moments, only when you need something ruined.

Shame

I hang my head in constant sorrow

There’s no reprieve from a life like that, when you can only take joy in the fleeting moments of normalcy before you’re back to being a bad luck charm. It’s no wonder he’s always drunk as Glynda said – if not for the numbing qualities, than simply because he’d rather be rejected and shamed than pitied.

His sorrow is his to bear, and as I previously mentioned, he prefers to be seen as antagonistic than a tragedy. He even takes that animosity from Jaune, who he does regard well for his connection to Pyrrha and Ruby.

When Jaune criticizes him directly after his explanation of his semblance by saying, “Well, you are just a real bundle of help, aren’t you?” Qrow agrees.

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Rain

On every day you need the light

If you are in a bad emotional state, he can’t help you. If someone breaks his nieces’ hearts, he can’t do anything to comfort them directly, which is what they’d need most.

If someone he cares about needs relief and peace, he will only bring misfortune and he can never be their support up close. Noticing a pattern? It brutalizes Qrow that he can’t do the things he wants to do or be the person he wants to be, but I’m going to take now to mention the actual music in this song.

It’s assertive, almost triumphant, and it’s not at all ashamed or “rainy”. These lyrics talk of pain, but the song speaks to how Qrow twists this curse to a weapon he can at least be proud of in a spiteful way.

Strain

To see some fortune in tomorrow

But there’s always that reminder that he can’t have happiness in the traditional sense. And that is something he craves. That’s another layer of insult for Raven’s choice to leave her children, I’m sure of it, but I may need to dig into that in another post.

For Qrow, the happiest ending is dying in the field protecting those he loves. Think about it, he let his guard down around Tyrian to protect Ruby from the falling beam when he’d been perfectly capable of defending himself that entire time.

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For Qrow, dying in a fight beats dying old and alone. Because he will only hurt those near to him. He couldn’t even spend his days paying someone to take care of him in an old persons’ home or in his own home because he’d risk their safety and everyone else around him. It’s truly a strain to see good things in his future.

And in the vein of spiting his semblance by taking control, dying as a sacrifice would be the ultimate refusal to let his semblance torment him in his final days.

Bane

Is what I am to every life

These​ stanzas are the inevitable conclusion he reaches when he follows the train of thought on his semblance and what it means to his life. He can only bring passing happiness to those he cares about, and he has to go before he ruins it again.

He’s at the campsite for maybe 30 minutes and his semblance is undoubtedly as low as he can get it. But even then, he’s stayed too long and a log rolls off the fire as he leaves – the beginning of a small disaster.

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You should trust one thing

Take my advice

If you linger close

It’s a hefty price

For Ruby, he paid that price – he knew he would die in the field as his happy ending, he had thought of that before for certain. So he took that risk to save her during the fight with Tyrian that got him potentially fatally poisoned.

We don’t know the details of his past, but you can be sure there are people who tried to stay close and paid the price because he didn’t defend them like he defended Ruby. Whether it was a lack of affection, fear, or inexperience that lead to their sacrifice instead of his, that too takes its toll.

Edit:

As mentioned by Noah Comer in the comments on this post in the RWBY Amino, it could potentially be that Qrow was with Summer on her last mission, and he blames his semblance for her death.

Given that Tai did react to Qrow very badly in season 3, he’s not necessarily alone in that if this is the case. That’s an interesting theory in light of these lyrics. (Perhaps I’ll visit that in another post too, haha.)

You and I are not the same

You don’t want the burden of my name

Let’s revisit his jaded description of his semblance at the fire pit. Everyone has a semblance, but they’re not designed to hurt the bearer so immensely. Not like his.

But because he hides his, there are people like Ruby and Yang who do look up to him. And when he takes a second to be happy to see them and know that they’re proud, sometimes he has this thought – you don’t want the burden of my name. Don’t be like me, I am not someone to be proud to know.

That final line is also a reference to how he got his actual name, as I mentioned earlier. He said that he was named Qrow because he brings misfortune like the bird is fabled to do. Only he does, and that’s the burden of his name.

A guaranteed catastrophe

A tear that’s bound to fall

A sure train wreck

Another echo of making himself a disappointment so at least it’s his choice and not the semblance controlling him. Consider his antagonism of Winter in his first episode, where he not only makes a wreck of the courtyard but of her appearance in the public eye.

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If he must be a disaster, let it be a conscious choice that he’s being confrontational. It’s part of how Qrow copes.

And you’ll soon regret

The day I came to call

Going back again to the campsite after the fight with Tyrian, remember Juane’s reaction to the whole description and how Qrow accepted his aggression.

He was already prepared to be hated for helping in the only way he could. So, wounded and poisoned, he goes off under the guise of going for a walk so they can buy more time safely away from his semblance.

Soon, they’d all regret him being there, and it was better to leave when he at least had compassion from Ruby and Ren than waiting until they all came to regret it. Which, as the lyrics state, would not take long and would hurt everyone even more in the end.

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I removed repetitions of the chorus since they’ve already been covered, but I hope you enjoyed the full analysis of this!

Questions, feedback, anything I’ve missed – feel free to comment!

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Thank you for reading.