A new take on a classic with lots of references to other Shakespeare works, Romeo x Juliet works far better than I suspected.
What They Say
For most of her young life, Juliet was forced to live a tortuous lie. Disguised as a boy, she lurked in the shadows of Neo Verona. She escapes from the monotony of a life in hiding only disguised as the Crimson Whirlwind - a masked crusader determined to right the wrongs of a heinous regime. But now, as her people's suffering reaches unspeakable levels, Juliet prepares to raise her sword and lead a rebellion against the villainous tyrant whose hands are stained by the blood of her ancestors. She is the last breath of a dying line of kings and the final, fleeting hope of a city that desperately needs her.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audo mix for Romeo x Juliet surprised me a little as the English language adaptation got a bump up to a 5.1 mix as companies are being somewhat stingy about which shows get those these days. The original Japanese stereo mix is included at 192kbps and has a good solid feeling as it plays across the forward soundstage. The English 5.1 mix, encoded at 448kbps, adds some extra oomph to the show when it comes to the action and the musical score, but not significantly so for the most part. There are minor moments when things stand out more, but it’s hard to discern if it’s really more significant or just louder. Both mixes are pretty good though and the English language mix makes out a bit better as the characters have something of a natural feeling for being in English considering how long I’ve been familiar with the basic story.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is done in two sets of twelve episodes and this set has the first twelve split evenly across two discs. Though a bit soft, intentionally to some extent, the show has a very smooth and pleasing feeling as it plays up a romance set against an epic moment in history. It has a very soft color palette that really works well in its favor with well detailed character designs that have a wonderful flow to them. Though I don’t think it’s a knockout visual, it is one that I found appealing overall and reflective of the mood that the series is trying to present.
I’m of a mixed mind with the packaging because half of it is just pure love for me. The series is done in standard form for FUNimation these days with a thin slipcover that houses two thinpak cases. The slipcover is nicely done with its design as the front has the logo through the middle with the crest and that provides a vertical stripe as well which separates Romeo and Juliet, both of which are shown through a blue filter. It’s a somewhat busy cover with its ornate nature in some areas but also because of the flow and the little touches within the character artwork. The back of the slipcover has a solid blue gray background to it with the strip wrapping around here as well. The center is made up of a large ornate piece that has a number of shots from the show and a decent summary of the overall premise. The bottom has some basic production information and the technical grid is on the bottom spine.
It’s what’s inside that I really like though. The two thinpaks are done in a soft yellow and each cover has a different illustration piece in full color on top of that. The first one has a really beautiful image of the two leads together, Juliet with her sword and Romeo with an iris, that exudes something very romantic. The second cover has the pair together again in an embrace with different outfits and a much lighter look to it which gives off a very carefree loving feeling. So much of this show is obviously wrapped up in how the two relate to each other that I’m surprised it’s conveyed so well in just two pieces of artwork. The back covers are identical in layout with some crest material shown and a block in the center with a breakdown of the episode numbers and their respective titles along with a small piece of artwork featuring the two leads in different ways. The covers are also reversible as the back covers are the same but the front covers have different pieces of artwork, both with a much darker and sadder tone to them.
The menus for Romeo x Juliet are really nicely done even if they are very simple in their design. Sometimes that simplicity is all that’s really needed. The main menus use the artwork from the individual thinpaks which are soft but beautiful illustrations focusing on the two main characters and their love and attraction. With a bit of instrumental music that builds and swoops you up, they set the mood perfectly and get you ready for what’s to come. Though they’re zoomed in, they’re well zoomed and each piece is really captivating. The logo in the center adds a nice element of sophistication to it and the navigation strip along the bottom is straightforward and easy to use. Submenus load quickly but the usual problem of ignoring player presets continues as it defaults to English language with no subtitles.
The extras are on the second disc and it’s not what I expected for the most part. The release includes the standards in the clean opening and closing and that was all that I expected in general based on most recent releases. A “Making Of” feature is included as well that runs just under thirty minutes and it covers a lot of material, as it mixes both a lot of animation from the series and interviews with the creative staff, actors and the musical score that was created for it. It takes a bit before it gets away from the “here’s what the setting is” material, but once it does that it really gets interesting. I even liked some of what they did in showing the various characters and clips of them and their relation to the story. It’s a good promo for the series and for those who may not be too familiar with things overall.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With Romeo x Juliet, there’s a whole lot of trepidation about getting into this show. It’s a story that’s been adapted endlessly, it’s from Gonzo who can be really hit or miss in a bad way and it’s a quasi-science fiction/alternate world story. And it’s following on the heels of Gankutsuou – The Count of Monte Cristo – which really wowed me but was decidedly distinct and creative in how it approached its world design. Would Romeo x Juliet take the same approach or would it do something a bit less brazen and surprising? With the series helmer talking about bringing in mostly younger people to work on it, it’s a surprisingly restrained show but one that shines through with its passion and intensity that makes it easy to connect with.
The premise for Romeo x Juliet takes liberally from the original material but it also mixes in a lot of other Shakespeare works which will either please or annoy the hardcore fans. And let me be upfront here. I read the original work in high school like many, I’ve seen numerous adaptations in other media and I’ve seen it as the school festival piece in far too many anime series. But I am by no means a purist about it or even a great fan of Shakespeare in general. What I will easily admit though is that his works are generally appealing and endlessly adaptable because they are among the key basic stories that almost everything is derived from. And adaptations into new works don’t diminish the original for me in the slightest, but rather enhance it by providing new interpretations of it. This adaptation certainly modernizes a lot of things while also changing the direction of it.
Though not exactly science fiction, Romeo x Juliet is an alternate world future where the city of Neo Verona is now ruled by the Montague family. Fourteen years prior, the current Montague prince destroyed the Capulet family and killed all of them, though one did escape and was thought to be dead all these years. In the time since, the name Capulet has been dragged through the mud and most believe that the Capulet rule of Neo Verona was cruel and harsh. As it stands, Montague fills that role quite well now with heavy taxes, a police that carries out their lords rule ruthlessly and a government body that essentially cowers to his will because of how easily they’ll be either exiled or killed if they question anything he does. The city is slowly but surely collapsing from rot because of this but for other reasons as well that are very slowly and teasingly given out over the course of these first twelve episodes.
In the fourteen years since the end of the Capulet family, the few faithful that have survived have spent their time carefully protecting the last member, young Juliet. Now just on the cusp of turning sixteen, she’s close to having the truth revealed to her about her heritage. For all of her life since she can remember, she’s been dressing and pretending to be a young man while learning the ways of the sword. So much so that she’s taken on an alter ego known as the Red Whirlwind that whips through the streets and fights for justice among the common people. Juliet is a very fun character to watch as she lives with these people who protect her and deals with Willy, the playwright who is hoping to build a story around her and her tragic life eventually. Willy is priceless as he brings out so many quotes and nods to the numerous Shakespearian works out there.
Juliet’s need to help people plays well to her guardians needs, though they have to temper her naiveté a fair bit and firm up her resolve. For awhile, most of what she’s doing is definitely serious and she’s trying to help, but there’s an air of fun and whimsy about it as she runs about in her mask and cloak, making little jokes and fighting the good fight in a jocular manner. When the reality of her situation sets in, she has to cope with the enormity of it all because there are people that are now truly depending on her, people who have placed their hopes and dreams on her and will lay down their lives for her. When that becomes apparent by an act after the constables where they round up a number of citizens they falsely believe could be the Red Whirlwind, Juliet sees someone sacrifice themselves for her and that causes her to waver, to think about how everything around her is changing so suddenly and with such intensity. There’s a moment when those who followed the Capulet family kneel to her in the ruins of the family home that she didn’t know she was a part of, and it’s powerful how her expression looks.
Juliet is of course only half of the lead of the series and the other is young Romeo. Romeo Montague in this series is a very good natured young man who isn’t quite happy with how his father is running the city. So much so that he has his own very different vision of it all and intends to make sweeping changes when he ascends to power. The problem is that he’s now starting to bridle at what he has to watch and it’s becoming more and more of an issue. With the way Neo Verona is in how nobody will stand up to the Montagues because they’d lose their position and possibly their life, the prince is able to do what he pleases through mild intimidation and a bit of simplistic chess playing. Romeo does his best to survive under this and often spends time meeting his mother out at the convent where she’s in a self imposed exile of sorts.
Everything changes for Romeo when he meets Juliet for the first time when she’s at some ruins populated by irises. The two are drawn to each other quite a lot and can’t help but think about each other. With the way Juliet’s situation quickly becomes known, it doesn’t take long for Romeo to find out that Juliet is actually the Red Whirlwind and that she’s a hated Capulet. But his love for her is too powerful (hurray for new relationship energy) and he puts himself at risk to try and save her by attempting to pardon her and her family for crimes of the past. Before he knows it, the two are escaping the city and trying to live a life on the run with little on hand besides each other. It’s simplistic yet wonderfully powerful and romantic. It’s unrealistic, but it’s the kind of thing that you can easily imagine young potential lovers doing in their kind of situation without any other recourse.
After Gankutsuou, I was really curious as to how Gonzo would handle the design of this show. I’m very glad that they decided to not make it as, well, garish in a way, as that series. It’s not as flashy or in your face with its design and it does feel for the most part like a show that isn’t exactly science fiction or really alternate world. It has a few little things that are, such as the dragonhorse and some of the naming aspects such as Neo Verona, and there’s the underlying story about the twin trees that will play into it, but the majority of the show has a very old world real world kind of feel to it. In particular, I love the character designs and the costume design as it has a very soft and smooth feel to it, giving it an almost fairytale feel at times. It’s highly appealing with the way it looks and it makes it very easy to simply be drawn into it to enjoy.
I didn’t have high expectations for this series going into it since Gonzo is so hit or miss for me, but I found myself really enjoying Romeo x Juliet. It’s not high art, but it’s an engaging and fun interpretation of a classic done in a modernized way while still retaining the young and innocent love and romance of the leads. There’s obviously a number of changes to the layout and design of the classic, but I found it to work very well in this form and these twelve episodes flew by as I wanted to see more and more of it. There are little lulls here and there, but for this first half of the series, I was generally pretty captivated and enjoyed it fully. It’s not revolutionary or really challenging like some other Shakespeare adaptations, but Romeo x Juliet made me smile and kept me happy the entire way through.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, The Making of Romeo x Juliet, Textless Songs
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.