“Falling in love is finding something worth risking your life for”
Romeo X Juliet is a romantic fantasy anime based upon the play written by William Shakespeare. But do not be fooled, it isn’t the same plot you might expect. The houses of Montague and Capulet are not on equal footing. There’s a character based on Shakespeare himself, Juliet is disguised as a man, there are flying horses and there are other discrepancies. Initial impressions are that this is a lot like a western animated movie, like something done by Disney. Having studied the original play in English literature in back in my last days of school, I know quite a bit about the original. One thing that I remember well was that I first learnt of foreshadowing during my studies. Such a plot mechanic happens to be one of my favourites when used well, so I have high expectations for the quality of the plot of this anime. Does it live up to those expectations?
The animation quality is okay for a 2007 anime. I watched it in 480p, though I do not know if it is available in HD quality. There is quite a bit of action, though surprisingly there is not much in the way of blood and gore. To be expected, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of characters getting wounded. As for the style, it’s a typical medieval animation, the setting looks beautiful but the characters look somewhat generic. A bit disappointing in that respect. Being an anime taking romance seriously as one of the main themes, there is no fan-service or ecchi. Thank goodness. And if there is any love-making, I guess it would be done in a sensible manner, to appropriately suit the gentle atmosphere of this anime.
I was very surprised by the soundtrack of this anime. It’s much like a movie and… that epic rock tune in the outro introduced me to a new band 12012 (yes that’s their name). I do plan on getting the band's albums, but I won’t bother with the soundtrack, which is still pretty good. There’s a lot of music in the way of orchestra, strings and other gentle tunes. Often, it sounds very old timey and medieval, with the right quirks in the background music to make it so. Appropriate music for such an anime. Of course, like any anime with good sound design, the background is quiet when appropriate.
This anime is available in both English and Japanese and they did go to quite the effort for the dub. Some parts sound much like the play and the lines are spoken with wording like old English. As nice as this is, this doesn’t occur for most of the anime, especially as the plot is significantly different to the play. There’s also a lot of Italian in writing in this anime, which makes sense since the story of Romeo and Juliet takes place in the Italian town of Verona and this one still takes place in the similarly named town of Neo Verona.
There are a few well known voice actors (for the dub version) in this anime. Juliet’s voice actor Brina Palencia has voiced the likes of the Kinoshita twins from Baka to Test, Priscilla from Claymore, Yin from Darker than Black, Rei from the Evangelion remake, Nina Tucker from FMA and Holo from Spice and Wolf. Colleen Clinkenbeard who voices Cordelia has also voiced Riza Hawkeye from FMA, Mitsuki from Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, Yuuko from Tsubasa Chronicle/XXXHOLiC and Reina Souho from Witchblade. J. Michael Tatum does the voice of William de Farnese, also did the voice of Scar from FMA: Brotherhood, Lin Koujo from Ghost Hunt, Ikki Takeda from History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi, Kraft Lawrence from Spice and Wolf, Seishorou from Tsubasa Chronicle and Doumeki from XXXHOLiC.
Romeo Candore van de Montague is the 16 year old son of Prince Montague. Raised in the palace, living the easy life of a noble, he is unaware of the struggles of the people and the truth, though to no fault of his own. He is a strong believer in justice and wishes to ease the suffering of residents of Neo Verona when he one day inherits the throne. He is a kind person and prefers to avoid conflict, treating all with respect. Unfortunately, this is not in line with the wishes of his Cielo is the only one who he felt comfortable around after his mother’s leaving and does well in both protecting him and helping him get closer to Juliet. Romeo’s other friend is Benvolio and he is engaged to a noble girl Hermione, chosen by his father. So in short, a noble boy who is kept from freedom and his own beliefs by his tyrant father.
Juliet Fiammatta Arst de Capulet is the last remaining Capulet and is kept hidden by the remnants of those loyal to Capulet blood including her strict guardian Conrad. Her parents were killed by Montague when she was a mere child and her best friend (though she feels more of a sisterly bond) Cordelia helped her to escape. Growing up, she was forced to disguise herself as a boy to avoid being found by Montague. She uses this to her advantage as she fights the guards of the city ‘Robin Hood’-style as the masked vigilante the Red Whirlwind. As such, she is well skilled with a sword and is a formidable force in combat. However, she does not take lives or spill blood and cannot bring herself to kill a human being. She is often rash and impatient, tending to rush things than to think them through. Due to her disguise as a boy, she has had little opportunity to develop skills appropriate for maidens, like embroidery and cooking. Despite that, she tries her best. She also seems sensitive to the pains of a mysterious tree… what could it mean? Before long she is forced to lead a rebellion against the oppression of the Montagues and return the throne to Capulet hands. But is she capable of doing so?
Romeo’s father evil, dictator of a father, Prince Leontes Van De Montague, is paranoid of the return of the Capulets and wishes to snuff them out of existence, sympathisers, children and all. However, he wasn’t born so malicious and his past will reveal his hatred for the Capulets. He often visits a tree by the name of Escalus and it seems he has a reason for his villainy. On occasions when Romeo acts against his father’s wishes, he gets reprimanded, with a slap for example. When he was younger his mother, Portia Clemenza di Ebe, left the palace as she did not agree with his father’s ways and wished not to take part in such tyranny. She gifted him with his best friend, the dragon-steed Cielo.
Of the various other characters, one most notable is William de Farnese AKA the Shakespeare character. He’s actually a comic relief character, one who writes plays and often blathers on about creativity and philosophy. In the original play, the friar was the one assisting the lovers in their passion. In this anime, William plays this role, though only for Juliet as his home and theatre is where Juliet and the remaining Capulet loyalists reside. He is able to get away with this as he is the son of the noble Farnese family, one who even prince Capulet respects and dares not to crush in his desire to maintain his power. He is often found associated with the actor Emilia, a vain woman who seeks fame and the admiration of noblemen.
More among Juliet’s friends, her best-friend, personal maid and a person who she regards as an elder sister Cordelia. Despite her looks, Cordelia is only a teenager, a few years older than Juliet, though having more ladylike behaviour as she doesn’t need to disguise herself as boy. Antonio is a playful child who looks up to Juliet. Curio and Francisco are effectively Juliet’s guards, they seem to also harbour admiration of sorts towards the girl. Curio is the trope easy-to-annoy badass character and has a scar across his face and wields a large halberd in battle. Francisco has long blonde hair, is the trope womanising pretty-guy and excels with the bow, to the point where he might as well be this anime’s Legolas. Hey… these two could be compared to Gimli and Legolas haha! Conrad is the oldest of the Capulet loyalists and is Antonio’s grandfather. He saves Juliet at the start and is often the voice of reason and logic, spurring Juliet to take action and avenge the death of her family. Lancelot is a married father of three doctor, another Capulet loyalist who treats their wounds when injured. He wants his family to live in peace and happiness and is prepared to do anything for it. Tybalt is the trope mysterious, angry, OP badass and boy is his story interesting. He harbours a deep hatred for Montague for some reason…
Anyhow, back on Romeo’s side, Romeo’s buddy Benvolio di Frescobaldi is the noble son of the mayor of Neo Verona and a year older than Romeo. He is quite clumsy and fairly useless as he has had a privileged life being the son of the mayor. But he is a good friend to Romeo and later seems to get along rather well with a certain maid. Mercutio de Marchege is the son of a Montague loyalist, the noble Titus de Marchege who is a lazy drunkard. Mercutio, much unlike his father is cunning and manipulative and looks up to Prince Montague. He seems to assist Hermione with her troubles and spurs certain characters on. Hermione de Borromeo is the noble girl engaged to Romeo of a similar age and she obviously loves the guy. Seemingly just a pretty noble girl, one wonders how she’d react to Romeo’s relationship with Juliet…
The last and most mysterious character of them all is a strange immortal robed woman called Ophelia who speaks in riddles. She is associated with a very large and just as mysterious tree called Escalus, whom is often visited by Prince Montague.
The plot is greatly different to the original play, which is only really an inspiration. At the start, the Capulets are mercilessly slaughtered by Leontes Van De Montague and the only Capulet who survives with the help of Cordelia and Conrad. Several years later, under the rule of Montague, the city of Neo Verona is suffering injustice as the common folk have difficulty getting by while the nobles relax and enjoy their wealth. It is ruled by sheer fear and oppression, by the hand of Leontes Montague. During one of the Red Whirlwind’s escapades, Juliet and Cordelia are cornered. Who should come to their rescue but Romeo and his pal Benvolio.
The overall plot surrounds the desires of the remaining Capulet loyalists and the people wanting peace and freedom and their quest to take back Neo Verona from the corrupt noble rule. In between this all, Romeo the son of Montague has fallen in love with Juliet, the last remaining Capulet and sworn enemy of his father. Every episode ends with Juliet asking what can become of such forbidden love. If you’ve watched any of the legit Romeo & Juliet movies or read the play, the only bit of the plot that remains the same and therefore is a bit predictable are the main ideas. As such, don’t feel surprised about how the overall anime goes. At times it does feel a bit far-fetched as some very unlikely and fortunate events coalesce to form the final story. I guess it would be silly if Romeo was killed by a rock falling on his head or if Juliet was killed by a mistake while swordfighting.
In the first episode, Juliet asks Shakespeare what falling love is like. Shakespeare replies with the sentence with which I started this review with: “Falling in love is finding something worth risking your life for.” Now, I am a cynical person and I don’t believe that romantic love exists in reality. But in fiction it does and this statement holds true for that. Similarly Romeo asks Benvolio, to which he replies “It’s finding the one you wish to die with, a passionate connection meant to last a lifetime.” I also think he’s onto something here.
Anyhow, this being a romance anime based on the most famous romance story in the world, one would expect for it to have a reasonable depiction of love, right? A shame then, when Romeo and Juliet seem to immediately fall in love for no reason at all. Just by looking at each other. Now I’m no expert in the fictional concept that is love, but that is pretty shoddy to me. All the good romantic plots, including the few decent romance anime, have the characters developing feelings for each other over time. Heck, even the movie Gnomeo and Juliet did this better as the two initially hated each other and then fell in love after spending time together. It doesn’t do that and instead the depiction of falling in love here is much like the false concept as in reality. Love is more than just looks. All they had to do for the story to fall apart was to have a girl more attractive than Juliet at the ball in episode 1. Since then apparently Romeo would have fallen in love with that person instead. This convenient and non-existent trigger for the relationship between the two, is the worst part of the plot and possibly the whole anime in my opinion. Especially as it really breaks the whole idea of Romeo and Juliet.
Wow that was a large rant. Anyhow, the rest of the romance really works out, though at times I felt the two were cold towards each other. They were willingly away from each other and towards the end, there was even a bit of a lovers quarrel. You can guess how that ended. One thing that surprised me was the exchanging of vows privately in a church, similar to a marriage. Yet the couple are never referred to as being officially wed, which was a bit weird to me. I will also add, being a romance anime, there isn’t much love being made despite the opportunities that arise. Slightly disappointing since Romeo & Juliet movies often tie that knot. And a bit strange as there are mature themes implied, I felt like they were being a bit too cowardly and safe with this anime. Heck, if this was an ecchi anime, I wouldn’t complain since the context of romance would exist to justify it. There are also some alternate romances, I will not mention who they are. I guess just pin your hopes on them instead, since well… you know this is Romeo and Juliet.
Overall, a bit disappointing since there are quite a few missed opportunities and if you've experienced the generic Romeo & Juliet plot, then only the setting and context will be the unique feature of this anime. Not to mention that the two fall in love suddenly for no reason. Maybe I just don't know anything about how love works. It is a fictional concept after all. But it's not a terrible plot and tries to do its own thing. I guess that must be commended.
So, is this anime worth watching? If you are a fan of Shakespeare, romance or are susceptible at having anime tug at your heartstrings then give it a go. Despite this being based upon Romeo & Juliet, there are much better and much more fulfilling romance animes. It doesn’t offer anything different other than Romeo & Juliet in a fantasy setting where Montague is a tyrant and the Capulets don’t really exist. This anime also plays things a bit too safe, given the nature of this media they could have gotten away with quite a lot here without making things terrible. I did feel a slight lump in my throat towards the end, but I knew what would happen (it does have similarities to the play) and that reduced my enjoyment of it. Not a terrible anime despite its many flaws, yet not an amazing anime either. Watch it, enjoy it and think what you will of it.
Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 Mature themes (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 7/10 (higher is better)