Feeling Inadequate as a Support

"JNPR" | Art by Quirkilicious. Used with permission.
Receiving the nickname “vomit boy” is not a promising beginning for a would-be hero. Neither is forging school transcripts or succumbing to the demands of a bully. In short, Jaune Arc’s early days at Beacon Academy are anything but an inspiring origin story.

From its first episode, RWBY’s main character has always been Ruby Rose. In spite of the show’s large cast, Ruby stands apart from the rest and garners the most screen time. In some ways, Ruby and Jaune are not so different: they enter Beacon together, become team leaders, and go through most of the same adventures. But whereas Ruby was allowed into Beacon two years early because of her fighting prowess, Jaune can barely hold his own on the battlefield. Ruby is everything Jaune wishes he could be: an exceptional fighter with a state-of-the-art-weapon. In other words, hero material.

In Volume One, Jaune wrestles with a lot of frustration. Although he knows he’s not a strong fighter, he feels embarrassed when his teammate, Pyrrha, offers to help him train. “I don’t want help!” he tells her. “I don’t want to be the damsel in distress; I want to be the hero!” Because of his pride, Jaune pushes away Pyrrha and his other teammates—just in time for Cardin, Beacon’s resident bully, to learn that Jaune lied his way into Beacon. Cardin blackmails Jaune into all kinds of dirty work, making him less of a hero than ever.

Jaune’s always played a supporting role, not because he’s second-best, but because that’s where he belongs.

Finally, Cardin threatens Jaune’s teammates. For the first time, we see Jaune’s heroism when he stands up to Cardin in defense of his friends. In the aftermath, Jaune becomes humble enough to ask for Pyrrha’s help. His friends’ need for support gives Jaune the strength to fight, and their support strengthens him in return.

In Volume Two, Jaune has a bit more confidence. He’s settled into his role as team leader and, although he stumbles plenty of times, he’s made strong friendships within his own team, JNPR, as well as with team RWBY, telling Ren he’s his brother and embarrassing himself at the school dance to cheer Pyyrha up. And yet, Jaune still struggles against the role of “supporting character.” In the Vytal Festival of Volume Three, he gets too caught up in being the leader and tries to instruct his teammates with fighting terms they’re not familiar with. Then, when Beacon is attacked, Jaune’s world falls apart: he loses his school and the professors who trained him but, even worse, he loses Pyrrha. She is killed in the battle, robbing Jaune of his best friend and his greatest source of support.

In Volume Four, Ruby, Jaune, Nora, and Ren rally themselves and travel to Haven, hoping to right some of the wrongs that tore their world to shreds. From remnants of two broken teams, they form a new team called RNJR—with Ruby as the leader. Jaune once again finds himself overshadowed by Ruby, playing a supporting role to her heroism. Although Jaune’s contributions during the journey are invaluable, he feels inadequate next to his better-trained friends and struggles to find his place as a Huntsman.

Then, in Volume Five, Jaune finally has a chance to confront Cinder, Pyrrha’s murderer. “I’m gonna make you pay for what you did; do you hear me?” he shouts at her, to which she responds, “Who are you again?” Her apathy revives Jaune’s fears of inadequacy, along with his memories of Pyrrha’s death.

Anguished, Jaune charges Cinder, sword drawn, but she uses her powers as the Fall Maiden to beat him easily. In the past, his failure to triumph as the hero would have bothered him. But this time, he looks around at his friends, all fighting for their lives, and tells Cinder, “If I die buying them time, then it’s worth it. They’re the ones that matter.” Realizing how much Jaune values his friends, Cinder attacks Weiss instead and leaves her for dead.

Horrified, Jaune runs to Weiss, desperate to avoid losing another friend. And that’s when his semblance finally manifests: Jaune can enhance someone else’s aura with his own, boosting their ability to protect and heal themselves. He uses this ability to save Weiss’s life and, once she’s healed, she rejoins the fight and helps turn the tide in their favour.

Jaune’s greatest strength is the ability to strengthen his friends.

When Jaune discovers his semblance, it’s like something finally clicks. In the midst of the battle raging around them, he’s at peace because he’s finally found his place: at the side of a friend who needs him. He’s always played a supporting role, not because he’s second-best, but because that’s where he belongs. His greatest strength is the ability to strengthen his friends.

Like Jaune, I often get caught up in my desire to be the hero. I compare myself to the people in my life and get frustrated by the ways I fall short. When I focus on myself, I lose sight of the opportunities to support the people around me. But, just as Jaune has a special role in team JNPR and team RNJR, the role I play in the lives of my family, friends, and even strangers is unique, something no one else can replace. I may not get to be the conventional hero of the story. But I can be a hero to the people around me by supporting them and helping them to be the best versions of themselves.

Throughout the seasons of RWBY, Jaune thinks of his semblance as the missing piece that will make him a heroic Huntsman. But when it finally appears, his semblance isn’t a special weapon to make him the best hero of them all. It’s a tool to amplify the best in other people by giving of himself. And that capacity for sacrificial love is what has made Jaune a hero all along.

Caitlin Eha

Caitlin Eha

Staff Writer at Area of Effect magazine
A published writer and aspiring novelist, Caitlin can usually be found with her head in the clouds and her heart in a faraway land. When she isn’t devouring a new favourite book or feverishly writing one of her own, she enjoys archery, cosplaying, jewelry making, and time with her Lord.
Caitlin Eha