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RWBY’s Yang: Shaping Identity from Disaster} ?> “Death feels like a roller coaster,” I remember thinking during a heart-stopped moment.
I had rushed out the door, ten minutes late to a Master’s class, brushed off my mom’s hug—too busy to waste three more seconds—and sped out of the driveway with speakers blazing. A few minutes later, the car in front of me stopped—a bit too quickly. I ground to a halt behind it. An instinctive glance in my rearview mirror revealed an F250 twice as tall as my little Buick Century barreling toward me.
I tore my gaze away from the mirror, determined to ignore the impending disaster. I thought, “It’ll be fine. Bad things only happen to other people—!”
A sonic boom exploded inside my car. Howard Shore cut off mid-crescendo. My seat hit the floorboard, then threw me against the steering wheel, along with a rain of glass.
The moment the world stood still again, I forced my jammed door open with a kick fueled by adrenaline. Taking stock of myself for injuries, I realized I was fine. Everyone else involved in the accident was fine too.
The next day, I drove to college, just a little more cautiously than usual. Whimsically reflecting on the harrowing incident as I headed for class, I made myself laugh at the way I had been worried about the wreck ruining my “cosplay face” and how my old “Tank” had remained true to its namesake to the very end.
Then someone nearby slammed a bathroom door. Hard.
In the space of a blink, I saw that F250 racing up behind me at 45mph, felt the blood rush to my gut in panic while euphoric vertigo flipped me heels-over-head, and heard a crash like a mountain collapsing in my ears.
At the time, I had no idea it would be my only flashback of the incident, just that it was my first. And that worried me.
In RWBY Season 4, Yang has a similar experience when she accidentally shatters a glass, triggering a traumatic flashback from the Season 3 finale.
Unlike the other three members of her war-torn team, Yang’s developmental arc features no physical fights with fanged monstrosities or deadly assassins. Hers is a battle of the mind, where suddenly her reliable fists hold no sway—largely, because she’s lost one of them to a villain’s blade. I’ve always related to Yang’s tomboyish mannerisms and physical strength, but especially to her golden optimism. She powers through every setback on a smirk and a glimpse of a better tomorrow. In Season 4, though, as Yang idles away in front of the TV and numbly occupy herself with chores, it’s clear that she can’t see a moment beyond her next footstep.
“Sometimes bad things just happen,” Yang tells her sister, in an excuse to keep unbearable blame from crushing her broken spirit further. No doubt Yang replays the fatal fight in her mind, wondering if a moment’s thoughtful preparation (or even running away like her best friend Blake) could have helped her survive the battle unscathed. It’s a trap I found myself looped into for days after the wreck—wondering if I could have avoided it if I hadn’t looked down from my mirror like a coward.
Yang’s understated anger is all that keeps her moving during her steep depression, and her excuses are the fuel it thrives on. Even when gifted a priceless prosthetic arm of cutting edge technology, Yang refuses to accept it and move forward.
“I lost a part of me. A part of me is gone, and it’s never coming back,” she finally tells her father.
While Yang’s arm had been replaced, her security was gone. Similarly, I didn’t feel safe behind the wheel of a car anymore; I lost the confidence I had that the next truck to pull up behind me would stop short, and the thought that any friend or family member out on the road wasn’t a second away from mortal danger. Eventually, though, I realized that I had to accept whatever I couldn’t change as the status quo.
It’s easy to get comfortable wearing the blinders of guilt and fear, looking through the narrow, non-threatening tunnel they bring. Taking off the blinders means more than facing my fears, but also facing the stigmas surrounding them. With my impenetrable “bad-things-only-happen-to-other-people” defense shattered, I am left unable to keep those “other people” at arm’s length if I am to be a good steward of the hardship I have endured and use it to help those around me. This means being vulnerable about my experiences and willing to change or at least question my perspective. There was a time when I resisted diving too deeply into others’ pains, as though their “bad luck” were contagious. I didn’t want to dirty my hands with their difficulties. I wanted to stay in the dark and feed off my optimism at the expense of reality.
In hindsight, I’m grateful that F250 wrecked by pride and priorities, along with my Buick. A few months later, I was able to assuage the fears of a close friend who had endured a similar crash. The discussion brought us closer, breaching topics my secretive nature likely never would have touched otherwise.
In time, I was able to think about my crash without it raising my hairs, churning my stomach, or causing me to reminisce about the “good old days” of blissful naivety before the accident. I shaped the wreck into a part of my identity—not out of an anger to “beat it” or out of a desperation to bury it—but out of a genuine desire for it to make me a stronger person, more equipped to connect with the struggles of others and search for answers from my soul, loved ones, and God. In an episode appropriately titled, “Taking Control,” Yang paints her metallic arm the colors of her original golden gauntlet—making it her own—and finds the motivation she needs to finally begin the search for her missing mother—a search Yang might have never undertaken had both her arms still been intact.
“It’s not as heavy as I thought it’d be,” Yang says, turning over the freshly-attached prosthetic arm. “It feels surprisingly natural.”
Today, the memory of the 2014 car crash is neither heavy nor unnatural. It belongs to me. It was, in some ways, a gift to me—to raise me to a level of awareness that 25 years of a safe driving record never could.