Review by: Faith McAdams
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 290 minutes
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Much like our Editor-in-Chief who enjoys classical literature just as much as I do, the thought of reviewing an anime based on William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet was an enticing prospect. I’ve seen the many retelling of the love and tragedy before in musicals (West Side Story) and even a modernized version (with Leonardo DiCaprio!) but it wasn’t until I watched Romeo X Juliet, Romeo Collection, that I realized that love for this story springs anew in this extraordinary anime.
Romeo x Juliet wonderfully twists the story in a sweeping fantasy that turns Neo Verona into a floating city that had once been peacefully ruled by the House of Capulet. Unfortunately, this peace is interrupted one night as the armies of Montague seize control of the palace slaying every Capulet in sight including any and all loyal to the family. The only one left is a child with soft red hair who is about to be slain with her young handmaiden named Cordelia until a knight grabs the girl by the hand and leads the girl to safety as Montague vows to find her and end the last Capulet bloodline forever.
In the fifteen years that pass, Neo Verona has fallen upon some hard times. The wealthy have become more wealthy and the poor are being terrorized by soldiers searching for the last remnants of the House of Capulet that have taken to hiding. Still, there is hope in the city and it comes in the form of a masked avenger called the Red Whirlwind who steps in to save the citizens of Neo Verona who are accused of hiding the last member of the Capulet clan. As fate would have it, the Red Whirlwind’s real identity is a girl who has been passing as a boy named Odin for fifteen years. Even more shocking, this girl is Juliet … the last remaining member of the royal Capulet bloodline.
It is during one of her stints as the Red Whirlwind that she comes to meet a handsome noble who lends a helping hand to her. It is clear from the moment their eyes meet that Juliet is smitten by the attractive young man who takes off in his flying steed (yes, horses have wings in this story) and she is forever haunted by him until one day – accompanying an lively young actress – Juliet (dressed as a girl) meets the boy again. She hears his name being called, “Romeo? There’s such music to it!”
Thus begins the love story of a young man who is son to Montague … the very man that murdered Juliet’s parents and the Princess named Juliet who begins to challenge Montague’s rule as the Red Whirlwind. It isn’t until her sixteenth birthday that Juliet comes to learn of your royal family and why she had been ordered to wear men’s clothing and pass for a man … a fact, by the way, that inspires a playwright named William (who is so obviously William Shakespeare himself). It also explains why she keeps the company of two handsome guards named Curio and Francisco as well as having the guidance of an older man named Conrad as well as the lovely Cordelia.
While Juliet does not accept her name at first, it becomes evident that Neo Verona needs her and needs the House of Montague destroyed. The dictatorship of the cruel and greedy Montague knows no kindness as people are strung up to be burned for suspicion of aiding the Red Whirlwind and it isn’t until a loyal physician – that finds out the truth about Juliet – disguises himself as the Red Whirlwind to make the ultimate sacrifice that Juliet comes to believe she needs to do something now.
In the middle of this is Romeo who is slapped around by his father and forced to marry a girl from a wealthy family named Hermione when he is so in love with the elusive Juliet. He has encountered her on many occasions, coming to know her scent via the flowers she enjoys so much. At one point, he even meets Juliet dressed as a boy and takes her on a ride on his flying horse until the rain forces them to an abandoned cottage. It is in this moment that Romeo discovers that this boy is Juliet. Why dress as a boy, he wonders? Then it hits him like a bucket of cold water.
Still, Romeo doesn’t care even when he comes to realize the truth about his beloved Juliet. He loves Juliet … who has finally accepted her true nature and lifts her family’s sword and vows to reclaim what was lost to the House of Montague. She, on the other hand, is torn by her loyalty to her House and her love for a boy that is the son of her family’s murder. Despite the fact that both are advised not to see each another, the two can’t help but think of each another. Yet a traitor among the newly formed House of Capulet finds Juliet’s friends on the run and Juliet alone with a man named Tymbalt who helped her save Romeo’s friend who as banished from the city and secretly sentenced to death if it wasn’t for Tymbalt.
In the final episodes of the 13-episode set, Romeo forsakes his name and, after running far away, the two make a vow in an abandoned church. While the series handles the story differently, there are familiar scenes scattered throughout (e.g. “Where art thou, Romeo?”) with its own unique twist. Even better, the voice acting for both the original Japanese and the English dub does the great dialogue justice.
Part 1 of Romeo X Juliet displays more emotion, excitement and brilliance in one episode than most anime series do with 24 episodes. Even if you know the story backwards and forwards, Romeo X Juliet still manages to be surprising, genuine and – most importantly – a joy to watch. William Shakespeare would have been proud of this series.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
With the House of Capulet crushed by the forces of the power-hungry Montague, a single survivor escapes only to strike against the dictator’s cruelty as the Red Whirlwind but better known as Juliet. Then, like a waking dream, she meets Romeo and thus begins a tragic love story filled with action, fantasy and a romance that is as epic as in the play.
VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation looks quite stunning on DVD to the point that you’ll feel like it was made for high-definition. The imagery is like a dream come to life thanks to the master animators.
AUDIO QUALITY: A+
While the original Japanese cast is wonderful, it is the English dub cast – naturally – that definitely shines the brightest. The original score by Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto is simply breathtaking and Lena Park’s rendition of “You Raise Me Up” (a song I once thought was sung best by Josh Grobin until I heard this version) as the opening theme song is gorgeous.
The second disc comes complete with clean opening and closing theme songs and a few trailers but you will most definitely enjoy The Making of Romeo X Juliet Anime featurette filled with interviews of the Japanese cast, the director and composer Hitoshi Sakimoto with the voice actors who portray Cordelia and Antonio as narrators.
Like the story itself, Romeo X Juliet is destined to become a timeless classic. This first part alone raises the bar in terms of how a classic should be re-imagined in an anime format. Really, I can sing this series’ praises all day but it is best to let you all experience it yourselves. Believe me when I say you will truly love this series.