Wednesday, 28 May 2008 06:00

Romeo x Juliet (TV, 2007)

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Overview


Romeo x Juliet

As with any storytelling medium, sometimes anime is used to retell familiar tales. Many series started out as manga - Japanese comic books. Ikkitousen is based on Battle Vixens, which was in turn based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel. The series that I picked up for this review, Romeo x Juliet, is based off the original Shakespearian play Romeo and Juliet. However, it's a reimagination made from the point of view of the Japanese culture, and it interweaves a few more ideas into the basic storyline that gave the series its name.

Fields USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Romeo x Juliet
Alternative ロミオ×ジュリエット, RJ, RomeJuli, RxJ
Dates 2007-04-05 - 2007-09-27
Company GONZO, CBC, GDH, Wellthink, Future Vision Music
Creator William Shakespear
Director Oisaki Fumitoshi
Genre Tragedy, Romance, Action, Humor
Related Romeo x Juliet (Manga), Romeo and Juliet (Play), Romeus et Juliet (Poem)

Review


Grand Duke Laertes Montegue

Romeo x Juliet tells the tale of a world in which a single city-state exists, that of Neo Verona. This world is often wrapped in a thick, dense fog, and though the city itself is still alive, the world around it appears to be in decline. The plants are dying, the ground is drying up - basically everything's looking pretty bad. Despite an appearance of prosperity in the city, there is a vast division between the citizenry and the nobility, a divide that has been growing for fourteen years. On a single night, the noble house Montague assassinated every last member of the ruling family Capulet, as well as many of their retainers and supporters. The head of the Montague, Laertes, took the position of Grand Duke.

Yet, even fourteen years later, the Grand Duke still searches for one remaining Capulet, a little girl who escaped the bloodshed after witnessing him slay her parents. In the city, his guards find one girl of age, and are about to bring her in when a shadow falls over them. This is the Red Whirlwind, a young man in a red cap and cape who has emerged to fight against the oppression waged by the nobility. Having saved the girl, he goes to make his own escape, with the city guard hot on his trail. Unfortunately for the Red Whirlwind, in his effort to escape, he stumbles across somebody that recognizes him, and is forced to bring her with him, slowing him down. They find themselves cornered in a ruined corner of the city, with nothing but a bottomless chasm behind them and the guards in front of them... only to be saved by a pair of ryuubi (dragon-horse) riders as the unstable ground they're standing on crumbles.

You should really carry a parachute when you jump.

Perhaps the single largest difference between the original play and Romeo x Juliet is that the character's roles are reversed. Juliet is the hero. Romeo is the one being married off. The Montague family is in control, while the Capulets are all but erased. I showed the preview clip for the series to my Humanities class, and it was pointed out that there probably weren't too many pegasai around in the play's era. Romeo x Juliet, however, mixes in some more fantastical elements to the storyline. In part, this is due to a simple requirement for material - the play only takes about three hours, while the series is just under twelve hours long. Hey, in the greater storyline, there's both reason and need for a flying mount in the world of Neo Verona. More to the point, in the greater storyline, the plot of the play just wouldn't have been enough - it's too simplistic a story. Rival houses, and true love, star-crossed lovers... the Shakespearian version firmly entrenched those as clichés, but in the end they're pretty basic material.

Romeo x The Red Whrilwind... wait a minute...

In truth, the storyline of Romeo x Juliet only used the play as a framework in which to tell a larger story. While the advancement always seems to be on the eventual confrontation between Juliet and the Grand Duke, you begin to realize that there's more going on than just a war between two families. As I mentioned above, the world around them is dying, and it is gradually revealed that it is linked directly to the coup d'état. The end result is a storyline that is not only far better rounded, but it gives Juliet and Romeo the time they need to grow into the characters they needed to be at the end. Unfortunately, while the series did an excellent job of building up from the framework, there are some pacing issues that should have been addressed better. I particularly questioned the events of episodes eleven and twelve, as they ran counter to the character of Juliet that had been built up to that point.

Actually, now that I've mentioned the character building, I should spend some time with the cast, as it's a pretty broad one. Almost every single character is related in some way to the works of Shakespeare - not just Romeo and Juliet, but others, such as King Lear, Othello, and the Tempest. Then there's the benefactor who's family helped to shelter Juliet, a playwright named William. Indeed, this particular playwright has produced a number of works in which Juliet has taken a role in, although in a quite backwards manner. Of note are Cordelia, who takes the role of Juliet's nurse/confidant, and Lancelot, a doctor who treats the Red Whirlwind's wounds.

Dance of the iris and rose.

As for the lovers themselves, after the night that her family is killed, Juliet is raised in complete secrecy by the man that saved her, Conrad, captain of the Capulet house guard. To hide her identity, she is raised as 'Odin', a young man in William's theater company. In fact, even she doesn't know her own identity - she has blocked out the truth, and Conrad refuses to tell her the until she turns sixteen, as she does shortly after the beginning of the series. Romeo, on the other hand, has been raised as the son of the Grand Duke, but as is made immediately apparent, he's not particularly happy in that role. He disapproves of his father's rule through tyranny, and spends much of his time away from the palace, flying over the city on his ryuuba, Cielo. It is, indeed, Romeo and his friend Benvolio who save the Red Whirlwind and Cordelia when they are cornered by the guards. Later that same evening, he meets Juliet for the first time when she is dragged, uninvited, to the Montague Rose Ball.

You knew there was going to be a balcony here somewhere.

The animation is some of the better that I've seen in the last few years, though of course it predates the recent trend of ultra-high production value series like Gurren Lagann and Haruhi Suzumiya. Particularly worth mentioning is the scenery to be found, because the artists went to considerable lengths to showcase the architecture of the city of Neo Verona. There are a number of wide angle shots that show a surprising amount of resemblance to the layout of ancient Rome. That suits the source material of Romeo and Juliet - the play itself was based on the 1572 Italian poem Romeus and Juliet. Among other points of interest are a coliseum in which ryuubi races are held, and the surprisingly detailed statuary displayed in many of the town squares.

Within the palace itself are many richly detailed, full-body statues, as well as wall carvings and golden busts. The alert viewer will notice that many of these provide hints to the deeper plot events in the series, but it's also worth mentioning just how much effort went into consistent depiction of the artistry. Most series wouldn't have gone to the effort seen here. There's also a good emphasis on the use of arches and columns in the construction seen in the series. That said, the setting, for all that it resembles ancient Rome, is done with more Elizabethan styling for the actual facings and interiors of the buildings. I'm not saying that's a bad thing - quite the opposite, the animators did an excellent job of mixing the two together to create a beautifully consistent and setting appropriate mix.

Juliet Fiamatta Asto Capulet

The character designs featured mostly Elizabethan outfits, which, again, suits the play's setting. There's a clear difference between the quality of the nobility's outfits, and that of the citizenry too, which helps to further the divide between the two social statuses. Still, the outfits are surprisingly realistic, especially given that there are fantasy elements mixed into this version of the story. Among the more unique outfits is Juliet's Red Whirlwind costume, which features a scarlet, wide-brimmed hat with a feather, and scarlet cloak. Actually, it was one of the few outfits that seemed out of place - but then, it was made by a theater troop, and was being worn by a vigilante. Superhero costume material at its finest.

On the soundstage, I have to compliment the voice actors that played the title roles. They did an incredible job of filling their characters with emotion, something that, as I've said time and again, is very hard to do. Mizusawa Fumie in particular, who had to play not just Juliet, but also Odin and the Red Whirlwind, rose to meet the challenge of a complex character evolution. The character's renditions felt real, and the ability to do that in a voice acting role is worth more than any amount of money spent on higher quality animation. The voice cast on the whole did a great job, really, though Hermione's VA sounded like she was having a little trouble pushing her voice up to the levels it needed to be for her major scenes. She managed to pull it off though, so credit where it's due.

Isn't usually supposed to be the girl that blushes at first sight?

I was a little disappointed with the musical score for Romeo x Juliet. That's not to say that it wasn't a good score - the background themes were actually very good, and did a nice job of setting the tone for the series. Unfortunately, much of it sounded far too modern, and I think that the composers missed a chance there. After the exceptional detailing work that the artists did to set the tone of an Elizabethan styled Rome, the score should have had a more Baroque feeling to it, and while the music that we got worked, it could have been better. The opening theme, You Raise Me Up, is sung by Lena Park, and is an excellent version of the original American song. More to the point, it was a perfect selection for a series based on the premise of two characters making each other better just for knowing one another. The two ending themes were alright, but ultimately forgettable.

Star-crossed.

I'll take a moment before closing this review to note that there's something that helps to keep the love-at-first-sight romance aspect of the entire Romeo and Juliet storyline fresh. Much like Rhett and Scarlet in Gone with the Wind, for the majority of the series Romeo and Juliet are just slightly out of step with one another. There's never any doubt that they love each other, but it's not until the end of the series that they're both in place where they can truly be so. There's a scene in episode nine of three ducks floating in a pond, while Romeo and Mercutio briefly discuss Romeo's forced betrothal to Hermione. Two of the ducks are together, with the third alone; the three are swimming toward each other. Half-way through the conversation, one of the pair suddenly switches partners, heading the other direction with the formerly lone duck. It's an interesting comment on the ongoing storyline - or I could just be reading into it too much. In any case, a kudos is deserved by the writers for doing a great job of keeping the storyline from falling into a rut.

Overall


Meet the cast.

In the greater scheme of things, Romeo x Juliet is just a well written, well executed television series. It doesn't really have any grand significance in and of itself, not on the scale of Shakespear's works anyway. I do think that it's very likely to be the first exposure many of its viewers have to any of the Shakespearean works, as it was mine. However, it has the distinction of being told from an alien point of view to that of the original writer that allows it to be a truly fresh and interesting take on a familiar story. It's got a well written plot that makes grand use of the story framework provided by the familiar tale of Romeo and Juliet. There's a bit of action, a bit of humor, a lot of romance, and a healthy portion of drama - this is a series for the fans of a good solid tale. Great series.

Additional Info

  • Format: Television
  • Animation: Groovy (+5)
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)

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