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Romeo x Juliet Vol. 1
Date 02 Mar 2010
We’re not newcomers to the works of William Shakespeare. There have been many attempts to bring the works of the famous playwright up to the modern age and this time it is Studio Gonzo who are showing the love story of couple torn apart by class divides and warring factions. Is this Japanese take on an English classic one that will live through the ages or be quickly forgotten?
For those that didn’t pay attention during English class, Romeo and Juliet is the story of two lovers on each side of the warring houses of Montague and Capulet, respectively. The anime takes this framework and works it into a love story that interjects questions on class divide as well as honour and love. Rather than using the exact play as previous attempts at an update have tried, usng the old script of the original play, Romeo x Juliet uses the play as the base, but builds its own story to make it somewhat new and refreshing.
The first thing to get across for this series is that it is something of a slow burner. Being predominantly a love story with the title characters only meeting at the end of the first episode, it is understandable that the story needs to go at a slower pace in order to show the developing relationship between Romeo and Juliet. While there are action pieces, they serve more to show the strife suffered in the city and appear sporadically during the opening episodes. This is a love story and should be taken as such. While no doubt later on in the series the action will heat up, at the moment it is more about setting the scene.
There is an imbalance with the lead characters. Juliet is the more interesting, leading a double life to conceal her identify, while also having the most interesting scenes not just in terms of action, but also with revelations and feeling the weight of the world upon her shoulders. She has so much to live up to; you can feel how much she must be suffocating under it all. Romeo on the other hand is more of a distraught noble man looking for a way out of his suffocating life, more willing to let things happen rather than take action. It affords him a more submissive role and while there are hopes that he will improve over the episodes, he isn’t as stand-out as he should be in the opening episodes.
What is unusual is the number of episodes on the DVD. Where we usually get four episodes a disc, this time we have six and watching the final episode it makes sense. The first five episodes have been leading up until this point and it is with the sixth that we finally see some motion in the overall story arc. Motivations are given to characters, events are set into motion and the complex torture of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship begins to take a more unsettling turn. It gives much hope that the future episodes will show more of the turmoil felt by the city and the very strained relationship of the lead pair.
What is quite interesting is the differences between the English and Japanese dubs. While the Japanese subtitles are quite standard with nothing particularly outstanding, it’s the English dub that gives out more emotion. The purists will no doubt be glad to hear that the subtitles are based upon the Japanese dub rather than the English interpretation, but the English is actually done very well. It interjects snippets from the play and more "old-time" English to help set the scene and setting of the series. Some may laugh at the ridiculousness of the speech, but it does add much to the series and shouldn’t be quickly shrugged off for the usual Japanese language.
Romeo x Juliet will be a very Marmite anime for many. Some will find it an enjoyable romp with a good mix of story, action and characters that’ll keep you entertained for this first volume at the very least. Others may find the slower pacing and uneven focus on the lead characters to be somewhat disheartening. Those that stick with it look to be rewarded with a complex story on love, class and what people will do for one another and for a cause. The opening episodes just need to be overcome first.
Even with six episodes on the disc we get a good selection of extras. We have the making of the series, looking at the themes of the story for the series while not giving too much away. We also get the standard clean opening and closing credits, along with the standard art gallery and MVM trailers.
A slow start hides the potential for an enthralling series.