FUNimation's latest hit series is rather an unusual beast and quite honestly it's something I never thought I would see. When I first heard about it at this year's Anime Boston I must say that Romeo x Juliet peaked my interest. I mean, how many times have you seen a blend of Shakespeare and Japanese animation? Um, none, that's how many. I suppose it's only fitting that a project of this magnitude be undertaken by Gonzo, one of the current leaders in the anime industry.
A little while ago FUNimation released the first half of the show as a "part" boxed set. He experience was quite unique and offered many surprising twists on Shakespeare's classic tale. Even so, there were still some things that were to be expected right out of the gate. The end result was an introductory boxed set that offered a great chunk of the series and stood out from the rest of the crowd. Does the second half of the series follow suit? The short answer is "yes", but before we get into that let's take a brief look at what the show is all about and what happened the first time around (please note this contains spoilers).
The show takes place in a kingdom known as Neo Verona and begins with a flashback of events 14 years prior to the current timeline. A guy from the Montague bloodline eradicates the ruling Capulet family and becomes the Prince of Neo Verona. We see the escape of a young girl who is the last surviving Capulet, Juliet (duh!), and then the show skips forward to present time to tell its tale.
Since the bloodthirsty Montague Prince has been scouring the city looking for Juliet it's only natural that she be hidden for these past 14 years. Retainers loyal to the Capulet bloodline have kept Juliet safe, but in an effort to do so they have forced her to live the life of a boy. Juliet is undoubtedly confused as to why, but she doesn't actually find out the reasons until her 16th birthday, and let's just say it's a tad overwhelming. Adding to the complexity at the beginning of the show is the fact that Juliet also fights crime in Neo Verona by donning the personality of the Red Whirlwind, who is basically like Robin Hood. She does all of this prior to learning the truth about her life, and during the course of the first half this bit fades away to focus on other aspects of the story.
Predictably Juliet meets up with Montague's only son, Romeo. She reluctantly falls in love with him and the two shrug off the shackles of familial conflict and opt to run off together. While we obviously know this is coming it happens in the first half of the show and is handled quite well. With so much done the last time around, what does this installment hold for us?
Not surprisingly it picks up right where it left off in the prior volume. This show has always displayed an impressive amount of continuity and that trend continues here. Juliet is back in Neo Verona and meets up with the magical tree at the heart of the city. She learns something about herself and eventually makes it back to safety for a while. This particular plotline feels a little forced, but I suppose it does offer a nice twist for the finale (I'll spare you the details). As far as Romeo is concerned he has been sent off to a mine by his father, who has grown increasingly frustrated with him. While there Romeo learns a lot about himself, what it means to be a noble, and just who exactly has been forced to work in the mine. Let's just say that neither of these things really sits well with the boy and he grows up quite a bit.
As Juliet reveals who she is to the people of Neo Verona and calls out Prince Montague the many plotlines of Romeo x Juliet begin to converge. It's all handled quite well and there are several impressive moments here as the show begins to heat up prior to its conclusion. Ultimately I was satisfied with the ending, though I can't help but feel that the tale of love could have ended a little differently. Still, it keeps within its fantasy and magical roots so I suppose it's fitting.
Romeo x Juliet proved to be a great series that offered up many surprises to those familiar with Shakespeare's tale, which is probably just about everyone. The show does enough to separate itself and create its own atmosphere. From the flying horses to a magical tree, and even Juliet's portrayal of the Red Whirlwind, Romeo x Juliet has many surprises in store for you. Some of the dialogue can be a little bit of a pain and the googly-eyed Romeo and Juliet gets annoying after a while, but overall I have to highly recommend it. The show entertains from start to finish and the production is something to behold.
Romeo x Juliet is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. I was very excited to see that this show was produced by Gonzo and it's great to know they continue their mark of excellence. Everything about this show has been finely crafted with meticulous details aplenty. From the character designs to the world of Neo Verona everything is robust, vivid, and downright gorgeous. Some moments of this show will make you want to watch them again simply because of how great they looked. The transfer is pretty good as well and the show maintains a crisp look with vibrant colors and clean lines. There's some light aliasing from time to time and you can also catch glimpses of grain here and there, but neither flaw is a deal breaker.
Romeo x Juliet hits DVD with its original Japanese 2.0 stereo track and an English 5.1 Dolby Digital selection. As far as the presentation is concerned, both tracks performed well with no flaws what-so-ever. The Japanese track was decidedly flatter by comparison, but it's not exactly like the English track brought down the house either. Instead the English 5.1 offering brought some more dynamic sound to the rear speakers with a little amount of directionality with regards to the dialogue. It's just enough to be noticeable and worthwhile.
The dubbing here is quite different than you'd expect. The original Japanese cast approached the material like you'd expect. The dialogue is straightforward and not particularly flowery, but compared to the English cast's much more Shakespearian dialect it definitely stands out. The English experience is kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand the language feels very faithful to Shakespeare's play, but on the other it just doesn't quite feel natural while watching the show. I found myself constantly switching between the two and actually preferred the Japanese track more than the English. That's just personal preference really, since there's not exactly anything wrong with the English track, it's just different.
The second part of Romeo x Juliet comes with clean animations and trailers for the expected features. There's also an audio commentary for the final episode, which is a nice recap of the show and what it was like for the crew working on it. It's nothing special, but it does provide some insight into the production of the dub.
Romeo x Juliet is an impressive production all around. The characters, animation, and story all come together for one heck of an experience. This is an interesting take on Shakespeare's original work though with that in mind it's somewhat predictable. There are some surprises here, but most of them come from the liberties taken to produce an original work. This second installment focuses more on Juliet becoming the Capulet she's always been and the action heats up as she confronts Montague. Romeo comes into his own as well as the love story reaches its tragic conclusion. While the liberties it takes, and the fantastical elements, may not be for everyone the show is highly recommended due to its abundant quality.
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