I'm very familiar and fond of the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. I was very intrigued and excited to watch an anime adaptation of this play. In three days, I watched the entire 24 episodes in large sitting periods. I thought it was a brilliant adaptation of the story. I really enjoyed the fantasy aspect that was added to it. It was certainly successful in moving me to tears, much like the original play.
Romeo x Juliet is about star-crossed lovers Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague. The setting is a place called Neo Verona. The lovers' families have been at war since they were young children. Juliet has been hidden and protected by the few remaining servants to the Capulet household for fourteen years. She has been masquerading as a boy since she was two years old. The two meet one night at a ball and fall instantly in love. The story follows their fight to make their love possible. Together, Romeo and Juliet seek to defy not just their families, but fate itself. Although, the manner in which it takes place is vastly different from the play, Romeo and Juliet's self sacrifice manages to save their world and people in it.
As I mentioned before, the plot of the anime departs vastly from the play. Romeo and Juliet first meet while Juliet is disguised as the Crimson Whirlwind--he saves her from a fall. The second time is at a ball held by Romeo’s father; this time Juliet is dressed as a woman. True to the play, love at first sight occurs. The story is dominated by Juliet’s struggle to overthrow Montague so that she and Romeo may be free to love one another without fear. Romeo even goes against his father and joins the fight to the extent. However, he is absent from most of the major battles. Nevertheless, I found myself completely enthralled with the revolution plot. Tons of intrigue occurs with exciting battles which I couldn’t predict the ending to. I rooted out loud for the Capulets the whole time. Occasionally, the show would border on melodrama, but action always picked up quickly. I appreciated the nice balance between the action and romance.
I thought the climax of the series will be at the death and overthrowing of Montague. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen, if the lovers would live or perish. I was quite certain of the latter. After Montague’s death, the series took a strange turn and focused on this subplot of a great tree of life called Escalus. It’s kind of ironic to say that this whole tree of life plot didn’t make sense in a fantasy story. Perhaps because it was poorly developed. There were hints of it throughout the series, but I thought it was minor subplot until the last few episodes. Still it led to the major theme of self-sacrifice important in the original play. I will admit, the way the last scenes between the lovers played out had me crying. Nevertheless, I would’ve preferred a death in battle to this one.
Romeo x Juliet has some wonderful character developments. The most notable character is Juliet herself. The gender roles are switched in the anime. Juliet takes on many of Romeo's actions from the play. She expertly wields a sword; she takes on the persona of the Crimson Whirlwind--a Robin Hood type figure. She fights against the injustices of the tyrant Montague against the common people of Neo Verona. She experiences serious moral conflict when it comes to notions of duty, love, and justice. She is a strong female character who becomes a true hero. She undergoes immense personal growth as the series progresses.
Romeo tends to be a little dull. It's wonderful to see the strength his devotion to Juliet. He experiences a slight moral conflict, but it doesn't seem to explored as in depth as Juliet's. He is pacifist and is an earnest, just person. He's just so good. He falls into a cliche, Gary-Stue category. The fact doesn’t make him unlikeable just a little uninteresting. It also allows for him to be easily accepted by Juliet’s companions as her lover. He does change from an uncertain, weak prince to a determined, strong man. The change takes place quite quickly. Afterward, he remains a static character.
The anime switches around the character roles, adds completely new relationships and history to some of the characters, and creates a large number of original characters--many of whom share the names of various characters from other Shakespeare plays. I was disappointed with the changes to some of my favorite characters from the play like Mercutio. Mercutio is changed from a clever, bawdy, hot head to a simpering loser. Montague’s character development also ended in disappointment. I was originally fascinated and scared by his insanity created by his ambitions for power. However, when his past was revealed, he turned into another cliche character meant to be pitied.
The character Tybalt is given a new interesting role--no longer Juliet’s cousin. He’s a completely badass fighter. Cordelia is an original character who replaces the traditional Nurse. It’s pleasant to see the loyal bond of sisterhood being emphasized. One of my favorite original characters was Willy Shakespeare. He is obviously meant to be the famous playwright. He takes his greatest inspiration from Juliet and writes her story as a play and has it performed. He is fantastic for comic relief but certainly has words of wisdom to share, especially on the subject of love. Many other characters are introduced and forgotten as quickly
The artwork in Romeo x Juliet is simply beautiful--especially the opening. It was very clean and simple in some ways. I don’t know how else to describe it. To be frank, I thought the art looked pretty in the entire series. I include all the scenes from the romantic moments between Romeo and Juliet to the awesome sword fights of the Crimson Whirlwind and the Montague guards to small moments, like rehearsal in the playhouse. To me one of the most beautiful scenes took place in the church when Romeo married Juliet.
There didn’t seem to be much variety in terms of music. The opening theme “You Raise Me Up” performed by Korean-American singer Lena Park plays throughout almost all the anime. This is a gorgeous cover of a popular song. Lena Park’s singing is greatly moving and sets the mood for the series. None of the other music was particularly memorable, except for when Juliet was becoming part of Escalus. I didn’t like the score for the scene. It reflected the creepy mood, but sounded awful.
Overall, Romeo x Juliet is a very good Shojo series and a fantastic adaptation of the Shakespeare play. The same themes and characters from the play are given a new dimension in the anime. The added fantasy elements and gender role reversals make the story more appealing to a modern audience. The artwork is stunning without being over elaborate. Lena Park’s “Inori” --”You Raise Me Up” in Japanese--will have you in tears and be stuck in your head for a long time after the series is finished. Shojo anime fans, hopeless romantics, and fantasy lovers are sure to enjoy this anime. Despite its odd, unsatisfactory ending, Romeo x Juliet proves that a story about true love never fails to be a good one. Thus, I give it four out of five stars.