Media - Animation - RWBY (2013 - present)
When I started re-watching Roosterteeth's RWBY for research purposes, I originally had one specific incident in mind: At the end of Volume 3, the character Yang Xaiolong has her character's right arm cut off when trying to save her partner (and implied love interest) Blake during a battle. The 4th and 5th seasons, I remembered dealt with Yang learning to accept her new reality and relearn how to exist with her newfound disability and the literal flashbacks she experiences related to the insident. What caught me off gaurd was that my rewatch showed me that most of the unique powers of the main cast could be interpreted as different types of trauma responses.
RWBY is based on fairytales, myths and legends. The main cast consists of Ruby Rose (little red riding hood), Weiss Schnee (Snow White), Blake Belladonna (Belle of Beauty and the Beast), and Yang (Goldilocks). The world itself is threatened by the Beasts of Grimm - these are manifestations of pain and suffering that target strong negative emotions. Major plot points revolve around dangerous secrets that are kept in order to avoid mass panic in dense populations, as the Grimm will swarm when emotions are in upheaval. Of course, the major goal of the villains is to disrupt the world and raise a panic across the land in order to burn the entire world to the ground and start anew. I did not realize it until this reading, but it seems to me that, much like how fairy-tales originally functioned as metaphors for difficult topics, I believe that the entire world of RWBY, known as Remnant, is representative for how we deal with trauma. Even the name of the land has implications that fit this - Remnant - a piece, a fragment; what is left over.
In the next layer down, the characters - not just Team RWBY but their friends and allies - have often suffered from different types of trauma. Yang's violent loss of her right arm (culminating in flashbacks and panic attacks in season 4) is just one of them: Blake and Weiss both show signs of being domestic abuse survivors, and the secondary team, JNPR dealt with their own trauma as well: Ren and Nora (Mulan & Thor respectfully) both watched powerlessly as their families were murdered by high level grimm, and Jaune (Joan of Arc) was forcibly pushed out of a fight by his best friend Pyrrha (Achilles) for being too weak to help, right before she was killed.Even Ruby, who's trauma may be less obvious, possesses a power that acts almost in the same way as the Avatar State did in Legend of Korra.
When Ruby witnesses the death of Team JNPR's Pyrrha time slows down for her for a second, and then the screen fades to white. In an overlay, we hear some voices giving exposition and when we fade back into the screen, Ruby is lying at home in her bedroom with no memory of how the battle ended. It is revealed that after Pyrrha's death Ruby sparked a deeply hidden power within her that literally froze time on top of the tower, dealing a major blow to a major antagonist. At the point where we are now, 5 seasons later, we still do not know the exact extent of Ruby's attack, only that the point where time is frozen, the sight of trauma, is acting as a beacon to flocking Grimm. For a while after this initial trauma, Ruby has nightmares where she hears Pyrrha's last words and her calling for Jaune.
Jaune has less outward signs of trauma, though it is shown that following Pyrrha's death he develops insomnia, and copes by replaying training videos she made for him over and over, and physically acting out the steps and maneuvers of fighting that she had taught him. Jaune is one of the very few characters at this point in the show to have not developed a Semblance power, and when he does, the circumstances are high stakes. One of his friends is shot through the chest, and in absolute panic at the thought of losing another person, Jaune reveals that his power is to use his own spirit energy to heal and enhance other's powers. It is not used with bad connotations in the show, however. His power shows him throwing all of his weight into helping his friends and responding with compassion to others. It will be interesting to see where he goes, given that in the latest season he is forced to kill one of his friends.
Not every power fits into this mold: Nora's lightning absorbtion and Qrow & Clover's luck based powers do not seem to be as based in trauma. however, others like Weiss, who can manifest a soldier to protect her and others from harm, as well as Blake's ability to leave a shadow person as a distraction so she can escape a situation seem rooted in their domestic abuse backgrounds. Blake's largest emotional issue to over come involves pushing away those she cares about most and running away. After her ex, Adam (Gaston) cuts off Yang's arm, Blake carries her to safety, and promptly runs away from them; Adam, deadset on destroying everything she loves, cannot continue to hurt Blake if she has no one to care about and surrounds herself with no one. This action does not mesh well with Yang's own traumas.
Yang, rife with abandonment issues surrounding her absent mother, is left to cope with the actions that left her an amputee. She is shown suffering from nightmares of her attack, as well as reacting with full panic from sounds that remind her of a sword slice. She refuses to go help Ruby as she sets out on a journey to restore peace to the land, making the excuse that her new reality is to no longer be a fighter. Her father notices this and tries to help her back on her feet in a variety of ways: he gets her a new state of the art mechanical arm, which she refuses - at first. She points out that everyone wants her to get back to normal (her sunny personality having dimmed greatly as well), but for her, being an amputee is her normal now. He does, however, manage to convince her to try it on, and points out that her hiding from the world, hiding behind this notion that she is too weak to fight is simply an excuse so she can never be hurt again. From there, her father guides her through retraining herself. Even the use of her semblance shifts. I have not talked about Yang's semblance yet, but it is one basically built around having a trauma response. When Yang gets injured, or watches someone she cares about get injured, she can return that attack ten fold. In essence, when triggered, she flies into a blind rage that can pound an enemy into the ground. She is arguably the strongest fighter, however her father, as a part of her retraining, warns her against over-reliance on it. As a part of her becoming physically strong again, he pushes to make her mentally stronger as well, forging a connection between body and mind. He is, in essence, training her to be much more emotionally aware, and focus on her mindfulness. Why and when she is using her powers, and using her rage mode to her advantage and only as needed. She becomes much more high functioning, and even though her trauma's continue to need dealing with as she goes on to join her sister and friends, at the end of season four she becomes stronger. Not from the trauma, but from the process of healing and self work. There is no implication here that it was the trauma that made her stronger.
Finally, I want to talk about one last character: Lie Ren. Ren is a main member of Team JNPR, and throughout the first 3 seasons of the show he is regarded as the quiet and most level headed one. Similarly to Jaune, we do not know what Ren's semblance is for the first three seasons, as it is rarely used. Season 4, however, changes that, as the ending is almost entirely about Ren and his history. Rens semblance, in simplest terms, is disassociation. The first time he used his semblance, his village was being massacred by a very high level demon Grimm. He had just witnessed his mother's death (the specifics of which he never remembers) followed by seeing his father taken out as well. As he hides under the porch of a house, his seven year old self is shown shaking in fear, crying, and producing all the types of emotions that would attract Grimm in his direction. However, as the Grimm approach, Ren goes into a full shut down, which activates his semblance. His semblance shuts off his emotions entirely. With no emotions to follow, the Grimm cannot find him and look elsewhere. Through this emotionless calm, he is able to find Nora, who is also hiding, panic stricken, under a house, and he learns he can extend this emotionless feeling to her as well. Ren's power might be one of the most literal manifestations of a trauma response in the show, and while it does prove useful (being able to hide massive quantities of people from Grimm and maintain calm in a panicked situation is incredibly useful) it is seen taking a major toll on his relationships. Allowing himself to feel anything is difficult for Ren. He avoids his old village altogether, and only goes to help Ruby and Jaune when he discovers they are about to be set upon by the beast that killed his family. Once he gets there, Ren attacks in a cold, calm and risky manner. He is showing emotions, for the first time in a long time, but in a completely unhealthy way. It becomes clear he intends to take it down with no regaurd to his own safety and without anyone else getting hurt by it. It takes everything Nora has to convince him that she will not let him kill himself to destroy one demon, and she insists they allow him to help. This is not to say Ren's emotional cut off is gone, once he kills the demon with his friend's help. Ren has trouble accepting feelings from his partner Nora, and can be cold and cruel often. The show is doing well in showing that there is more aftermath to PTSD even after the initial trauma is past.
As for my own work, I am starting to get vary intrigued by the way this show and Legend of Korra work with trauma response as a super power: very useful in life threatening situations, but also extremely detrimental and complicated when manifested outside of these necessary times. I like that it does give credit to the ways that trauma responses can save people in the right situations, but don't glorify them into an easy way out to be used all of the time. I had not been planning on having anything like that in this game, but I wonder if it would be an interesting direction to go in for future projects.