Character Spotlight: Taiyang Xiao Long

Hey everyone, it’s Kernook here, back with another character spotlight. Today I’ll be talking about Taiyang Xiao Long. This analysis content was voted on by our small Patreon community.

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For the first two volumes Taiyang Xiao Long is a non-character. We don’t know anything about the man. Then volume three hits and we get our first glimpse of him through Ruby’s monologue. This monologue is as deprecating as it is full of love. Ruby stands over her mother’s grave, Taiyang has wandered off someplace. Ruby mentions Yang has learned a lot of her combat style from their father, and finally he returns. We get a glimpse of him in the distance.

This is the first and last time that Taiyang will be referenced heavily as a man that is both deeply loving and terribly flawed to the point of no return. The next time we see him, he will display these traits, and you’ll either have to take him or leave him.

Honestly, I’ve always been rather conflicted in my views of Taiyang. The series paints him in a very distinct, often unflattering view. Honestly, it’s all very intentional when taken into view with the wider contexts of the show. To be honest though, I find it difficult not to take a separate set of issues with him as a character. My personal problems with him aren’t the ones that the series likes to wag a finger at.

The man has problems that aren’t addressed, but damn-well should be. This isn’t bad writing, the characters pointedly ignore or avoid his failings, and this leads to even larger problems.

Frankly, his bad habits have passed onto his daughters. To get into why, we need to look at what Taiyang is to Yang and Ruby. Namely he’s their father. He’s not a huntsman in their eyes, he’s just their dad.

We can see that’s how he wants to be viewed, and really, that’s all he’s got going for him these days. He may be a teacher at Signal, but we never see him teach or even mention his own abilities as an instructor.

The RWBY series has a very odd way of dealing with parents and parenting styles. This holds doubly true for the wider ethos of the hunting profession. Among parents and parental figures who take up the trade themselves, it can be a mixed bag. There is no stranger character as a huntsman than Taiyang Xiao Long himself. He is an enigma at best, a contradiction to everything a huntsman is at worst.

When it comes to the themes showcased within the wider narrative, Taiyang is the one of the most inconsistent characters when it comes to word and deed. Honestly that’s a very hard thing to do considering that he’s also internally consistent as a character.

Yeah, you read that correctly…

It isn’t that he’s a poorly written character, but rather that he’s just a guy that’s a hypocrite. He isn’t cut out to be a father and he knows it. I’m hesitant to call him a bad father, because I do think he does try to be a good one. However, I do think he has a toxic parenting style that lends itself to doing more harm than good, more often than not.

The key takeaway is that he knows he’s failed he daughters, you can see it in the way he acts. So, who is Taiyang Xiao Long, really? What do we know indisputably?

We know he’s the father of both Yang Xiao Long and Ruby Rose. We also know he’s a teammate (or perhaps more aptly put former teammate of the now defunct team STRQ). We know he has a somewhat messy relationship past, and we know that he allows his daughters to find trouble more often than not. That’s about it with this guy, right?

Or is it?

I say it isn’t… I know it isn’t… and I can prove it.

Fandom Perspective

Generally there’s a few ways to look at Taiyang, and it largely depends on how you see him as a character. I’ve said this before in my blog post about how I handle RWBY analysis content, which can be found here, but to paraphrase, many things impact the way we view something within a given show. RWBY as a series is no different.

Before I begin, do keep in mind that Taiyang can be viewed differently based on your own personal moral values, and what you personally deem important. You may see Taiyang in a different light than I do, and that’s perfectly okay.

Due to this detail, in fandom some depictions of Taiyang are much more flattering than others.

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Some people think he’s entirely useless both as a man and a father. Others believe he’s done the best with what he’s been given, and they feel bad for him. Another demographic tends to blame the writing in RWBY for his lack of strong and positive paternal role. No matter how you view him though, there’s no question Taiyang is a troubled man, just like Qrow.

He’s just harder to point the finger at, because generally Taiyang can be pretty likable when compared to other fathers in the show. Then again, there’s not a lot of strong competition in the fatherly line-up. Jacques is an unquestionable asshole any way you slice it, and Ghira is hit-and-miss depending on what angle you’re using to analyze him.

However, given the way Yang and Ruby were put into danger as children and that none of their key memories seem to include him, the harsher views placed upon Taiyang might not be a completely unfair assessment.

More importantly though, unlike other characters, we can’t look at the world through Taiyang’s lens. The guy doesn’t have one, or rather what he does have just isn’t logical or even realistic. He’s a man trapped in his own bubble, and that’s probably why Ruby and Yang act the way they do in the early parts of the show.

Don’t believe me?

Well, we just don’t see him interacting with a world outside of his home. Where other characters can display a core ethos regarding the world around them, Taiyang can’t do that. He’s stuck at home, and the scenes in which he is talking with others have an uncomfortable feel to them. To be honest, it just shows just how out of touch he is with characters and the world in which he lives. In the context of the wider series, he’s a nonsensical hermit at best..

Sadly, that nonsense becomes his ethos.

This is the scene that truly showcases how much of a hypercritical jerk Taiyang really is capable of turning into. When it least suits the situation, he acts out of turn. Yang and Taiyang end up having a petty fight similar to what we see back in volume 1 content. If you watch this scene and it feels like the same sort of bickering you’d hear from Yang and Ruby in volume 1, it should… that’s exactly the sort of stupidity it really is.

Within the scene, Bartholomew Oobleck and Peter Port are visiting him. They’re laughing it up, having a good time, and then Yang comes down the stairs. They talk about the Branwen twins in a less than favorable light, but up until that point Taiyang was acting up just as much as the other two… then the scene takes a sharp turn.

Word for word, Oobleck says this: “The Branwen twins have always been interesting to say the least.”

Then Professor Peter Port says this: “That sure didn’t seem to stop young Tai.”

From there Taiyang scolds them for saying that in front of his daughter. Peter rebuttals by saying that if Yang can fight monsters and train to be a huntress, she can handle the conversation going on around her. The truth is she can. She was handling the conversation just fine. I wouldn’t take an issue with Taiyang scolding them, but then Taiyang’s next comments are so damn insensitive and flat out idiotic that I wondered if volume 1 Weiss just manifested into his body out of the ass end of nowhere.

Read these lines and you’ll see what I mean.

Word for word, Taiyang say this: “Adult or not, you’ve still got a long way to go before you’re ready for the real world.”

That’s what Taiyang says when Yang says that she can be directly spoken to, like… funny that, an adult. Yang is university age, she’s not a child. She’s lost an arm to combat, and nearly lost her life once before that. If Raven hadn’t saved her in Volume 2, Yang would be dead. She’s lost friends, she’s seen hell at this point, and Ruby has gone off with the surviving members of JNPR.

Yet, Taiyang thinks that Yang is unready to live in the real world? The real world cut off her arm. The real world and the ramifications of being a huntress has been in front of her, and it has been for her entire life. Qrow’s drinking, her mother leaving her, Summer Rose is no longer with them, and Yang has faced near death experiences left and right since childhood.

Let’s be honest here guys, if she’s not ready for the harsh lessons of the real world by the time she goes off to Beacon Academy, what were the last seventeen years of her life really for? Moreover, why let a child go to Beacon Academy to face those dangers if she’s not ready for the adult realities that will inevitably bring?

Yang rightfully calls him out saying this: “Oh my god, does every father figure have the same three condescending phrases?”

Then Taiyang makes a jackass of himself: “Yeah, but we only use them when we mean it! If you honestly think that you’re ready to go out there on your own… Ha, well I guess you lost some brain cells along with that arm.”

Seriously, if that doesn’t feel like the early insult laden fights from the first volume, I don’t know what else would. Let’s be honest, that’s not only the wrong reaction to have, it’s a childish one for an adult man. His words and actions are so far from “okay” that everyone else in the room is taken aback by that statement.

Now to be fair to him, Yang eventually laughs it off. Still the fact she even has to laugh it off after the look she gives him prior, it really speaks volumes. That was a bridge too far for Taiyang, and it’s not okay. You don’t talk to your kid like that, not when she’s suffering from PTSD.

The hypocrisy is so prominent here, it’s a little disgusting. Peter can’t make a small joke at Tai’s expense, but Taiyang can say something like that to his own kid?

Sorry, no… hard no from me… no dice on that one… let’s just assume Peter crossed a line for Taiyang emotionally for a second. Even if so, you just don’t take that out on your kid. That’s vitriolic at best, and it is just a little emotionally abusive to say that to someone who just lost an arm in a fight for her life and the lives of her friends.

All of the above illiterates one thing. Taiyang never learned how to grow up. When characters like Sun, Ren and Jaune can act more like grown men than the actual father in the series, you need to take a few steps back and understand that this is all very intentional.

Taiyang is a troubled soul, he’s lost a great deal, and unlike Jaune Arc’s loss of Pyrrha Nikos, Taiyang’s loss of Summer Rose didn’t forge him into a better man than he was….

It downright crippled him.

Again though, I’m not saying Taiyang is an inherently bad man. Far from it. He’s not awful, he’s just not aware of himself or the wider world. He’s out of touch with what it means to be a family man, a father, and a person respectful of his own daughter’s limitations. He doesn’t know how to be more than he is… a man that has anger management issues much like his daughter, and a man that doesn’t learn from his mistakes… unlike Yang and Ruby who continue to learn from their own.

This is also what I mean by Yang and Ruby also keep and showcase his failings. Where he hasn’t grown from his troubles and tribulations, they obviously do. In Volume 4, Yang’s come a long way from the Yellow Trailer version of herself that grabbed Junior’s crotch. She’s mellowing by the day at this point, due in large part to her teammates. Ruby’s not the sort of person that babbles inconsistent nonsense so much anymore, like she did when facing Weiss down in Volume 1.

This scene when viewed in the context of the wider show just proves his lack of responsibility, and the responsibility he hypocritically expects from his children. Particularly, since if he actually feels that Yang is still a child, he never should have allowed Yang to wander to a bandit camp on another continent all by herself. If he doesn’t actually feel that way, why say something not only entirely insensitive, but also factually untrue?

Based on the events of the series as they’ve been portrayed by everyone, including himself, the hypocrisy here shows in spades.

This is where we get into the core problem of Taiyang Xiao Long. He’s a loving father who just doesn’t know how to be a parent. Unlike the Schnee family patriarch, Jacques could have likely been a wonderful father if he just gave a rat’s ass to be one. Taiyang never really grew up and simply can’t be a wonderful father, because at the end of the day, he’s still immature himself.

That is the core takeaway of this man. Taiyang doesn’t know how to be a father, and he never really learned at all. He ended up muddling his way through life without important lessons being learned the first time… which is why so many mistakes repeat over and over for his daughters.

Taiyang Xiao Long and Questionable Parenting

While even troubled characters such as Qrow and Raven seem to keep tabs on Yang and Ruby, Taiyang simply doesn’t. At the very end of the fourth volume, he sends Yang on her way to go meet with her bandit of a mother, Raven. That is a questionable detail, given just how dangerous the world of Remnant truly is. While Qrow at least follows Ruby’s rebuilt team, Taiyang stays behind… and this is a large theme with Taiyang in general… emotionally, he’s never really there when he’s needed.

Raven at least saves Yang during the train incident in volume 2, and she doesn’t flat out lie to Yang or skirt the details in any scene with her daughter. She is always honest with Yang, though she is also sometimes cruel about that honesty. Meanwhile, Taiyang can be cruel as shown by the scene above, but his dishonesty puts Yang and Ruby in danger as small children. Lies of omission are dangerous ones in the RWBY series, and they always end with something bad happening.

Refusing to talk about Raven until he absolutely must is a key problem for Taiyang.

The central flashback scene in which Yang describes the danger, it’s Qrow that shows up to save them in the flashback. She was able to sneak out with Ruby after Taiyang left the house. She says Ruby was a toddler at the time. Qrow saved the day, thankfully, or else they’d both be dead. This sort of inaction from Taiyang continues even when Taiyang becomes a fully realized character in the show.

Taiyang doesn’t leave with Yang at the end of volume 4. In volume 8, Taiyang just stands there and looks at the television screen when it cuts off, standing there and hoping Ruby comes back online. Frankly, the series makes one firm and clear depiction of Taiyang throughout the series.

Taiyang is not an active father, he’s largely inactive until he’s forced to act at all. Raven is absentee physically, but it’s Taiyang who is absentee emotionally. He may have put a roof over their heads, but he didn’t raise his daughters…

Let me be clear: he tried to, perhaps, the glimpses are there. Yet, to be honest, his failings are also clear in the lack of regard characters keep for him in general.

Yang can blow up bars in her character trailer, Ruby can pick a fight with thugs in the first episode of volume 1, but Taiyang is nowhere to be found in those incidents. His daughters can pointedly find trouble and danger as little girls, but all we know from Taiyang is that he wouldn’t tell Yang anything about her past.

He won’t talk about Raven until volume 4, when he has no other choice. Truth be told, it’s not the conversation Yang really needs to hear. Even that falls onto Raven’s shoulders. Taiyang isn’t the one to impart crucial details about the dangers of working with Ozpin.

I *would* call it bad writing, if we didn’t have such a clear and pointed view of the other family figures being referenced in the early volumes. Ruby discusses how Qrow trained her. Yang makes mention that Summer Rose was a lot like a “Super Mom”, but where’s Taiyang in those references? While Raven and Qrow both get rescue moments to save Yang, and Summer Rose is praised for being an influential figure, Taiyang doesn’t get anything like that.

He has no clear and pointed memorable mention of which to speak of. He has no moment to really stand out as a good father to them. By the time we get one, it’s already clouded over by the way he hasn’t been mentioned, and the ass he makes of himself.

Meanwhile, a drunk Uncle Qrow is regarded in a better light than their own father. While smashing up the campus with Winter Schnee, Ruby cheers for his actions. We really do need to question why… and that’s not to say Qrow doesn’t get a wake-up call as Ruby grows up. He gets a hard one by Ruby Rose standards in volume 6, but Taiyang never faces any repercussions like that.

Like Qrow, he really should have gotten the firm wake-up call, but for him it never comes. I really cannot let Taiyang slide on that one point.

The continued danger his daughters face, aren’t things he has any firm or direct dealings with. The times he has the opportunity, he fails to live up to it. Even just seeing him make a mad dash for the door in volume 8 before the screen cuts off would have been better than the way he just sits there. At this point he continues to prove he’s entirely useless to anything and everything.

The Belladonna parents get their moment to redeem themselves along with the Faunus of Menagerie. We get mentions of Glynda Goodwitch putting the city back together. From Taiyang, we have nothing of value to the greater society or to his own family. He’s no help to Vale, and he’s no help to his children. He’s not even any help to the family dog.

As a father who already lost people he loves, he now risks once again to lose the family he cares about. This time, his own flesh and blood, his daughters. Once again, he doesn’t do anything. With all of this being said, the series gives us a very clear cut view of Taiyang.

He’s no true huntsman, and deep down, he’s not the father he wishes he could have been. All that’s left is a lonely man, in a lonely, empty house…

He doesn’t have anything to show for all of his efforts, and we have to wonder how hard he really tried in the first place. How you choose to see those efforts are in your hands, and the series intends it that way.

As for me, I find it hard to have any real empathy for Taiyang. I do think he tries his best, but even Qrow stands as a stronger paternal influence to these girls, and that holds true from the very start of volume 1.

Taiyang has been absentee in a way worse than Raven could ever be in my eyes. He’s basically the male version of Willow Schnee, but without any outside oppressor, only himself to blame. He has no gumption to even attempt to do anything when faced with the difficult realities in front of him…

I’m not saying Willow is much better, but at least she knows well enough to know where Weiss really belongs. It’s not in that damned mansion, and Willow knows it. While Taiyang clings so hard he risks to lose everything, Willow knows when to let go.

Taiyang’s daughters habitually wander off, early and often. They get into danger, also early and often. Much like Ozpin allows trouble to take place within the school, Taiyang allows it to happen within the home. Otherwise it wouldn’t keep happening every time his back is turned or his daughters win the argument.

I think that alone says a lot about Taiyang.

When the other absentee parents, either emotionally or physically get a moment of redemption, he doesn’t. Qrow learns to follow Ruby’s lead. Willow learns how to make amends. The Belladonna’s are said to be reforming the White Fang. Raven learns to put faith in her daughter, because Yang is stronger emotionally than Raven will ever be.

What does Taiyang get?

Nothing… he gets nothing except for his own solitude. A man sitting in a dark room, all by himself, with his head in his hands… little more than a showcase of his failings.

Time will tell if Taiyang will ever get a redemption arc as a father, but for now, he’s pretty bottom of the barrel as far as RWBY parents are concerned. It seems to me, that’s exactly how the series wants it.

In my opinion, Taiyang is the foil to Willow. Both of them are emotionally absent to their children. One has lost herself due to an oppressor that terrorized her home, while the other is oppressed due to the failings and misgivings he simply couldn’t find the courage to correct.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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