RWBY Theory Subject: Neo
Today (or whenever you read this) I'd like to talk about and share my own theories concerning RWBY's lovable mute Neo. Forewarning: There will be spoilers.
What's a Neo?
Neo is almost a complete mystery, despite having first shown up in Volume 2: Chapter 4 to save Roman Torchwick, then, in Chapter 11, appearing to challenge three members of team RWBY onboard a train. Her actions have ranged from seemingly minor, to highly significant role, as in the destruction of Beacon. Whether it was acting the part of a Cinder teammate (Chapter 1), or portraying herself as an emergency worker (Chapter 7), or running around disguised as a soldier (Chapter 9), her pink and brown hair (Neo's name is based off Neopolitan), in addition to changing eye colors always hinted that Neo wasn't merely another pretty face in Remnant's growing roster of colorful characters. The truth about her actual unique value in the RWBY story came during Chapter 9 where it's safe to assume she single-handedly took over a somewhat large skyship, staffed and piloted by many Atlus soldiers (Chapter 9), then freed Roman Torchwick.
And yet, throughout every scene, and every action undertaken by her, Neo has never spoken a word. Not once. (Excluding her gasp, in Chapter 11).
Instead she's done everything needed, as needed, emoting very little with the exception of a slight, almost-coy smile.
So who is Neo?
For someone who has done so much, she has been explained very little. Her age is unknown. She doesn't have a voice actor, officially. She's short. Like Roman, she has an eye for classic fashion, unlike him, she doesn't seem to smoke. She is also exceptionally agile. The Neopolitan colors are not over-saturated, but unlike just about every other character in RWBY with screen time and a color-coded name, her alternate appearences is often the complete opposite, featuring either brilliant bright colours or dark and drab ones. And her weapon is an umbrella with a hidden blade.
What's her relationship to others in RWBY?
Aside from Roman Torchwick, Neo does not appear to care about anyone else. She worked with Cinder but never betraying if it was her orders or Roman's she was obeying in doing so, nor did she exhibit any of the fear/admiration or servility that both Mercury, Emerald and Roman have for Cinder.
She displays no animosity towards any of the girls on RWBY that she's fought either. Whether faced with the prospects of 3 v 1 (Volume 2: Chapter 11; Weiss, Blake and Yang) or having the upper-hand like when she fought against Ruby with Roman (V3: Ch 11). Her face retains a teasing smirk as though it were all fun.
As far as villains go, Neo is actually a new addition, devised just before Volume 2: Chapter 4's Painting the Town, if the fanwiki is accurate. So we have no idea her connection to Salem, if any (and I highly doubt there was one. Not every evil-doer is in cohorts, after all.) That said, if rumors are true, she may be reappearing in Volume 5. If so, I imagine she may be working with Watts. This could be construed as evidence she's been part of their plans for a while, but I'm reluctant to believe such; it's more likely she's a loose end, a straggler from the destruction of Beacon in whom Watts sees some use. Neo is, after all, highly skilled at infiltration and with Roman dead it's likely she feels lost, without a sense of purpose.
The last sentence may seem a bit extreme but this is where her relationship with Roman Torchwick comes into focus. The number one fan (service) theory is that Roman Torchwick and her were an item. People point out her extreme loyalty to him as evidence, chasing after him and Team RWBY and jumping in front of an incoming explosive round from Yang would certainly indicate her willingness to go above and beyond to keep him safe. Furthermore, Roman Torchwick, a certifiable criminal, con man, racist and scoundrel throughout his time on RWBY, for the first time since Volume 1 showed Regret when Neo flew off the sky warship they were battling Ruby aboard. Not only that, he immediately became angry at Ruby and lost a portion of his usual confidence and snark. Both of these are strong indicators that Neo was a one person Roman actually held fondness for.
But was it based on romantic feelings? I don't think so. I think the relationship Roman and Neo had was familial. It's quite possible Roman was Neo's older brother whom she looked up to. Or, inversely, it's possible Roman was her younger brother whom she doted upon when they were much younger. The question of her age makes it hard to determine between the two. (There's a misconception that a person's size indicates their age; my youngest sibling is taller than my eldest by a few inches though they're nearly five years apart. Considering RWBY's classification as an anime of sorts, the extreme difference in height does not argue Neo's age and relation for either case.)
Her willingness to follow dangerous, even suicidal orders, is what drives me to this conclusion. Considering "Painting the Town" , "No Brakes" from Volume 2 and Volume 3's "Heroes and Monsters" , Neo doesn't only take fights she knows she can win, but also supports Roman in situations that are obviously unsafe for her - as long as Roman is involved she will do it. This could mean she trusts in Roman and anything he assigns to her as being planned for and thus within her capability to handle. (This also might explain why Neo fled from Raven, because her arrival was completely unlooked for and, logically, not within Roman's planning). That trust also implies that Roman trusts in her, anything he needs done he knows she can do. It seems only logical that a long relationship built up this trust. But does that make it familial?
I think Neo's last exchange with Roman also supports this theory. When they're aboard the skyship and Ruby lands on the hull, Roman hangs his head as if suspecting the culprit and waves his hand, sending Neo to "Go see what that is." Neo doesn't roll her eyes, or protest, or look at all concerned. Instead she smiles and hurries off with noticable cheer, as if Roman, as her younger/older brother was having so much fun and she didn't want someone to his play time.
One last piece of evidence is Roman Torchwick himself. The man is a narcassist, racist, egotistical villain. Unless he specifically ordered Neo to never speak around him then Roman Torchwick having the patience to put up with a mute, when he could barely tolerate any of the underlings from the White Fang, and never tried to conceal his contempt for Mercury and Emerald, seems a bit far-fetched. It was alluded that Torchick discards those he can see no use for, according to Junior in Volume 2: Chapter 4. If perfectly healthy individuals are expendable, a potentially mute person would be little more than a handicap from his view. Would he take time to learn he can rely on such a person?
I know it's not a Slam Dunk, and could still easily imply that romantic angle but that's just how I see it. And it wouldn't hurt to mention I've seen similar behavior take place between my niece and nephew when they were younger; said niece attempted to be watchful over her cousin and make sure he was safe.
What makes her so remarkable?
You mean other than being a silent antagonist who has played such a crucial role in both Roman and Cinder's plans, has a very unique trait where she can change her eye colour at will, and who carries the kind of perpetual grin that reminds me of a kid in a candy store, no matter what she's doing, all while doning rather conservative attire complete with an umbrella? For me, it's would have to be her fighting style.
Like Yang, she's entirely melee focused. Some have pointed out she's comparable to Mercury with a focus on kicks, but she's also adept in grappling, using aikido against Yang to knock her out. Furthermore she utilizes her umbrella like a Tessen (warfan) or cane in a fight, both to harm, distract, mislead, and block attacks. On top of that there's possibly two concealed blades built in. One in the handle the other near the tip.
But more interesting than her offense, is her ability to avoid attack. Neo is impossibly agile. To date no one has ever landed a hit on her, not Yang with overpowering techniques, or Ruby whose speed can render her a blur. Neither blade nor bullet has done anything beyond shattering a mirage she seems to cast on the fly, similar to Blake's shadow, or Emerald's hallucinations, except on a much larger scale, able to manipulate multiple people's entire field of vision, to such a degree that Neo can literally hide in plain sight from an army.
Some people think her Semblence is simple illusions. But I think that's only part of it, or that she actually has two abilities. We still don't know how many powers a single person can have in RWBY. The Maidens grant near unlimited power, and there are certain objects that contain powers seperate of someone's Semblence, like Ozpin's cane. Weiss and Winter not only can cast runes with various effects (from Time control, to teleportation, to object manipulation) but they can also summon creatures they've beaten in combat.
Given Neo's preference for melee and her ability to avoid damage I suggest that Neo's real Semblence is Aversion, for lack of a better. This would actually fit because not only because of mirages that distract, but in close quarters, anything she can see coming, specifically any direct threat to her body, Neo can dodge or manipulate around.
But what about Ruby's quick move on her umbrella that sent Neo flying? And what about Raven's attack?
These actually are what drove me to this theory. Ruby's attacks, both melee and ranged never connected with Neo throughout their tussel. And Ruby is by no means slow. With Yang there was an excuse for it, but Ruby's scythe work was blinding fast, but not once did it catch Neo off guard. Even firing from the hip only destroyed a mirage cast by Neo, which simultaneously had provided Roman with cover to enter the fray (there's that innate trust the two had for each other).
In my Aversion theory, Neo's ability works on any direct threats to her physical frame. Ruby's maneuver was not directed at Neo but her umbrella. Neo was also distracted (more accurately, she was smiling at Roman). As for Raven, it was Raven's sword choice that gave it away. When Raven jumped in to save Yang Neo barely saw her coming, yet even so managed to avoid every slice. She was caught off guard, but none the worse for wear. What sent her packing however was Raven's red sword.
We've seen only one other red sword in RWBY (Yatsuhashi's doesn't qualify as red and Fox' weapons are more like Tonfa or elbow blades than a traditional sword). It was in RWBY Black Trailer, with Adam wielding a red blade. During the Black trailer we saw Adam, with a single stroke, completely obliterate a giant four legged robot. While it's true he had to power up a bit that is worth noting because in the Battle for Beacon multiple attacks from several huntsman in training - Coco, Yatsuhashi, Weiss, Ren, Nora, Sun, Neptune, Reese and others - had very little effect on the Atlus robots of similar size and destructive power. Even Velvet only barely managed to destroy one, despite going all out.
My theory is that there's something unique about the Red blade. Perhaps like many a fantasy novel, video game, or anime, has often made canon; some weapons are inherently more powerful than others because of their maker.
So I think Raven's red sword is actually capable of slicing through Aura and Semblence entirely, much like how Adam took out that giant robot, or cut off Yang's arm, with ease. And Neo knew it. That was what caused her to retreat; her Aversion wouldn't save her from the strikes themselves and her mirages would be useless in such close quarters. Furthermore I think that's why Raven quickly switched blades after attacking Neo; she noticed that none of her initial attacks connected so went for the Red edge, because it's able to pierce through any defense.
Where do we go from here? To Volume 5, obviously. What will Neo's role be? Unknown. Will she ever tell us anything about her past? Probably not, RoosterTeeth may just leave her mute. It certainly is one of her more intriguing attributes, in my opinion. But there are other ways to learn about her relationship with Roman, her motives and desires.
One thing's for certain, she is one of the more memorable pieces in Salem and Ozpin's war.
Hopefully she'll turn good, or at least retire before war's end.