When I attended Anime Boston a couple of months ago FUNimation was touting Romeo x Juliet like you wouldn't believe. Their vendors booth was full of promotional material for the show and they had even hired cosplayers to walk around the convention dressed as its main characters. On top of that the FUNimation panel had some nice previews of the show that gave a decent look at what the English dub would be like. Needless to say I was intrigued. I have a fondness for Shakespeare and knowing that Gonzo had produced an anime adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet", well, naturally I had to check it out.
FUNimation has just released a collection of the first twelve episodes of the 24 episode show. While it contains only the first half of the program it offers a large chunk of the series and gives us a great glimpse as to what it's all about. What's it all about? Well, there are some things you can assume going in if you're familiar with Shakespeare's original tale. Then again in this version there are flying horses, the Capulet bloodline was killed off 14 years prior (aside from Juliet of course), there's a magic tree, and plenty of other liberties were taken as well.
The show takes place in a kingdom known as Neo Verona. At the very beginning we see a bloody, fiery assault on Neo Verona's castle. The attack comes from the Montague family line as they overthrow and eliminate just about every person with Capulet blood, not to mention their supporters as well. This event sets the stage for everything in the show and thrusts Leontes Montague into the role of Prince of Neo Verona. With this position of power he sees fit to rule the land unchallenged, and with the rival Capulet family toast there's little that stands in his way. After this set up the show fast-forwards 14 years so introduce us to some familiar characters.
This Neo Verona is somewhat different than it was under Capulet rule. The citizens aren't quite as free and more and more, every day they are oppressed by law enforcement and tax burdens established by Montague. Times are tough, but making things even more difficult is the fact that after 14 years of spreading lies about Prince Capulet being a butcher, the people have begun to believe. Rumor of a surviving Capulet child has been surfacing and we see the military trolling the streets looking for her. Innocent people are suffering in this day and age, but thankfully that's where the Red Whirlwind steps in.
The Red Whirlwind is basically the Robin Hood of Neo Verona. With a flourish of the blade the Whirlwind does whatever possible to free the citizens from oppression. Naturally this character becomes a thorn in the side for Montague and there are some nice bits that play off from this. Come to find out his secret identity of the Red Whirlwind is a boy named Odin, though that's not entirely true. Odin is actually an alias for Juliet Fiamatta Asto Capulet, who has been in hiding for the past 14 years. It's understandable since Montague is tracking girls with her description down, but up to this point Juliet knows nothing about her heritage. All this information has been kept from her by her retainers, though now that she's 16 the cat's out of the bag.
In the very first episode we are also introduced to Romeo Candolebonte Montague, who is obviously the son of Prince Montague. Romeo does not share the same ideals as his father and sees much of what happens in Neo Verona as barbaric and unnecessary. Unfortunately he's in no position to do anything, so he really just flies around all day on his trusted Dragonhorse, Cielo, and hang out with his friend, Benvolio. At the beginning of the show he bumps into the Red Whirlwind, and even catches a glimpse of Juliet at another point. It's basically love at first sight and their chance encounter sets them down a painful road.
With that set up in place Romeo x Juliet goes through the motions of telling a love story. Some of it is predictable and it can be cheesy, but thankfully these elements are more or less kept in check. Romeo and Juliet's love builds gradually in each episode as they become wrapped up in events that threaten Neo Verona. Juliet's emergence as the sole surviving member of the Capulet family creates a rift between she and her lover, but soon enough Romeo sees that his father is evil and learns that the story about Capulet's reign of terror has been a lie. There's obviously much more to the story than all of that, however, since this is a show that features a gradually progressing tale with several twists and surprises it's something that should be seen and not dictated.
All I'm going to say about the story in these first twelve episodes is that it's utterly fantastic. The world of Neo Verona is rich and detailed though it's the characters that really draw you in. The production crew at Gonzo did a great job of making Juliet and Romeo feel lively with real emotion. There are some truly tender moments here that speak from the human heart. Thankfully the support cast is equally as intriguing and characters such as Benvolio, Montague, Tybalt, Curio, Francisco, and Conrad are all fleshed out surprisingly well. There's even a character named William who writes plays and lives closely to Juliet, supporting her as an advisor. A lot of careful planning went into the script and it's nice to see some of the fruits of their labor pay off.
Romeo x Juliet is one heck of a show that will stick with you after you watch it. Though we're only half way through the program we pretty much know where it's going anyway, but there are some nice surprises in store for us I'm sure. I wouldn't quite call this show epic, but it's definitely a cut above the rest and deserves a lot of attention. With that being said it's not entirely for everyone. There is some action, but there's not an awful lot. Also since this is a love story you can expect everything to be mostly dialogue driven with characters staring googly-eyed at each other. There's not anything wrong with that really and if you're looking for a change of pace you'll want to give this show a shot.
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.
Technically speaking, FUNimation's transfer is quite sound. The video maintains a very crisp look and there's little to complain about. The colors are vibrant, the lines are clean, the black levels are good, and the only things you can really point out are some light aliasing in parts and a little bit of grain in others. Neither flaw is extremely noticeable, but it's enough to keep the show from achieving higher marks.
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 first part of Romeo x Juliet is presented with textless animation and some trailers for bonus features. A rather nice surprise here is the inclusion of a 26 minute making of featurette with the original Japanese production crew and cast chiming in about the show. It's somewhat self-promoting at times, but there's quite a lot of information here intermixed with clips from the show. It's worth watching once you're finished with all 12 episodes.
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. Despite that, this is an awesome show that should be on everyone's watch list. To put it another way, here's a simple math demonstration: Romeo x Juliet = highly recommended.