Like most people out there, while I was in high school I had to read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of the most well known love stories in fiction and has been a mainstay of pop culture throughout the years. Obviously, someone was going to turn it into an anime eventually. I have no idea how any of you reacted to the play when you read it, but my cynical 16-year-old self hated it. I don’t hate it now, but I still wasn’t exactly going into this expecting much. But I like to keep an open mind and give everything a fair chance, because sometimes things can surprise you.
Romeo X Juliet is more than just a simple anime version of the classic love story, for a few reasons. The biggest reason is because it’s barely Romeo and Juliet at all. It does share some common elements and scenes from the original, mostly in character names and relationships, but it deviates greatly. In the original story, Romeo and Juliet are simply children from two families that hate each other. In this version, Romeo is the son of Prince Montague, who came into his position by killing the former ruler of Neo-Verona, Prince Capulet, the father of Juliet. This adds another level of tragedy to the love that forms between the two. Instead of Juliet simply falling in love with a boy her family hates, she’s fallen in love with the son of the man who killed her father, a man she swore revenge against.
The bulk of the story is also changed from its source material. It’s about more than just the romance between Romeo and Juliet, focusing partially on the supporters of the Capulet family and their plan to overthrow the Prince Montague. Juliet had to spend her life disguised as a boy to stay hidden from the Montagues after they killed her family 14 years ago. She even has a hero persona she takes on to help the common citizens, complete with silly hat and ridiculous cape. The beginning of the story is chiefly concerned with her suddenly being thrust into the position of leading a revolution, and learning to deal with this responsibility. She’s become a much more complex character than the one she’s based upon. Romeo gets a similar treatment as well. Given that he’s a protagonist and the son of the story’s antagonist, he spends much of his time becoming disgusted with the way his father mistreats the citizens of Neo-Verona, and suffering his father’s punishment for disobeying him.
This actually leads me to my one chief complaint with the series, and that is the way it handles Prince Montague. It’s clear that he is meant to be the villain of the story, but they seem to be laying it on a little thick. It’s bad enough that he smacks Romeo in the face every other episode for something as little as showing up late, but there are times where it seems like they’re trying too hard to make him look evil. For instance, at one point he has someone in the council removed from their position and exiled from Neo-Verona, using intimidation to force the other council members to support him on this. That would have been enough to make him evil, given the actual reason the person was removed, but they had to take it a step further. Prince Montague decides to have this council member, along with his wife and son, murdered. Why? Just because he can, I guess. There really isn’t a reason given for this, other than him being really really evil. He’s just a poorly handled character, and at this point in the series seems to have no motivation other than gaining power.
The second reason this is more than just “Romeo and Juliet: The Anime” is the fact that the series doesn’t succumb to any of the normal trappings of the average anime series. There are no exaggerated reaction shots, next to no fanservice, no cringe-worthy attempts at humour, and no physics-defying fights. There are a few moments where gravity is given the middle finger, but those are sparse and are simply used to add some flare to the scenes. The series is actually taken quite seriously, and despite the liberties taken with the story, it’s clear that Gonzo has some amount of respect for the source material. This is something I honestly feel I could show to someone who doesn’t watch anime and they would probably like it, assuming they don’t swear some fealty to the original story and hate this for being different.
The dub for this series is exceptional, but not for the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the acting, but what really stands out is the script. When writing the script for the English dub, FUNimation decided to have it written like a Shakespearean play. Not entirely like that mind you, there are parts that are written in more contemporary English. The use of Shakespearean English adds something to the English script that’s somewhat lacking in the original Japanese. This isn’t the fault of the writers of the Japanese script though, as you can’t really write Shakespeare in Japanese, so the English writers had somewhat of an advantage. There ends up being a fair mix of both Shakespearean and contemporary English, so whether or not you can actually understand Shakespeare, you’ll still be able to understand this series.
Romeo X Juliet gets off to a great start, and this set ends on a cliffhanger that really makes you want to see more. The changes to the story do however make it more of a fantasy series rather than a romance. It’s not the best of its kind out there, but it’s still a great show and definitely worth watching if you’re a fantasy fan like I am. We rarely get any really good fantasy series in anime these days, with most of them being bad eroge adaptations, or comedy/adventure series like Slayers. I want more series like Berserk, but Romeo X Juliet will tide me over until that happens.