Review for Romeo X Juliet: Volume 3
I just can't believe that this series is going by so fast! Eight weeks in, and we're already at the halfway point, about to embark on the next set of six episodes. All in all, this 24 episode series will be done and dusted in the space of little more than twelve weeks. Part of that is down to MVM's release schedule, and part of that is down to the new value for money mentality that sees discs crammed with six or more episodes. A few years ago, it would have been a lengthy year or more before a series of this length would have been released in its entirety. This is better in every way except one. The quicker release schedule makes it harder for me to come up with a new intro for these reviews on a monthly basis…
Romeo X Juliet is set in a fantasy realm of indeterminate time period, where Neo Verona is the centre of a vast continent, floating high in the sky, and where noblemen travel in style atop Pegasus like dragonhorses. It was 14 years previously that the Capulet family, rulers of Neo Verona were brutally slain by the Montagues, who usurped their throne and began a reign of tyranny. Only one heir to the Capulet name survived that night, a young girl named Juliet, and now as she nears her sixteenth birthday, she hides among the citizens of Neo Verona, disguised as a boy, protected by the surviving retainers of the Capulet family. And while Prince Montague's grip on the city ever tightens, his son Romeo is about to come of age. These two young hearts are set on a tragic collision course.
In Regions 1 and 4, Funimation and Madman released Romeo X Juliet in 2 two-disc sets. MVM have opted for four single volumes, released at a disc a month. This third release still bears the legacy of the US and Australian discs. It's subtitled Juliet Disc 1, and next month we'll get Juliet Disc 2. This disc has the next six episodes. When we left the story, Romeo and Juliet tried to escape their harsh reality and find a quiet life together, but reality and destiny pursued them, ensuring that they would be denied a happily ever after. As we begin this disc, Romeo is returned to his father, while Juliet, the last scion of the Capulet dynasty has finally been captured.
13. Pulsation ~Guided~
The return of Romeo and Juliet to Neo Verona brings with it all sorts of rumours and scandal. Montague thinks that the young Capulet girl has been leading his son astray, but is dismayed to find that Romeo's feelings appear to be genuine. While Juliet languishes in prison, Hermione determines to speak to the girl who turned her betrothed's head. But when Juliet's imminent public execution is announced, it moves her loyal retainers to action.
14. Solemn Responsibilities ~In The Circle Of These Arms~
Willy's theatre company is leaving Neo Verona to go on tour to Mantua, and with it Juliet and her retainers, to lie low until another chance presents itself. As for Romeo, he's being punished for assisting in her escape, and he's been assigned to the Gradisca Mine, unable to return until he doubles its output. A born noble, he's about to come face to face with the other side of life in Neo Verona, as the mine is where the petty criminals and dissenters end up, destined to toil in hellish conditions. Romeo quickly decides to change all that, he eats with the prisoners, and he picks up a pickaxe and works himself to the bone alongside them. But his attitude isn't fooling anyone, particularly a young thief named Petruchio.
15. The Self ~The Way Forward~
Slowly, Romeo is earning the respect of the mineworkers, but he has to come to terms with the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment of the prisoners there. Meanwhile Hermione is going a little crazy at Romeo's absence, and is pleading that he be allowed to return. Juliet's journey to Mantua continues, although curiously trees, or rather one tree in particular, is distracting her. Then an earthquake strikes in Gradisca…
16. One Person ~So Dear~
Hermione hears about the Gradisca mine collapse and goes out of her mind with worry. When no other news is forthcoming, she asks Mercutio for advice, who is happy to have her out of the palace, and advises her to take a carriage to the closest town and travel on from there. The closest town is Mantua, where Juliet has just arrived, and where she is equally concerned about Romeo, although concealing it with a lot more dignity. The thing is that Hermione has come to blame Juliet for all her problems, and Romeo's waywardness. It's going to be a fraught reunion indeed…
17. Cruel Tyrant ~Darkness, The Origin~
The mines are hazardous beyond belief, but when Romeo's request for clemency towards the prisoners is denied, he has another idea, resettling them in a certain abandoned village that he knows of. Meanwhile, Juliet and her retainers are settling in at Mantua, although it may be a fragile refuge if the traitor Camillo's presence is to be believed. They follow him home to confront him, only to find Tybalt. It's even more confusing when Tybalt addresses Camillo as his father. But the truth is even more astounding, as it turns out that Tybalt's past is just as tied up to the Montagues as is Romeo and Juliet's, and all of it stems from the reason behind Leontes di Montague's thirst for vengeance against the Capulets.
18. Aspirations ~In Each Of Their Hearts~
As Juliet and her allies work on a new plan to rid Neo Verona of the tyrant prince, they learn that outside the city, allies may be easier to find. But in amidst all this talk of war and rebellion, Willy has been inspired to write a new play, and as he says, the pen can be mightier than any sword. As rehearsals commence, Juliet hears that the prisoners escaped from Gradisca have settled in a nearby abandoned village…
Romeo X Juliet gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which as usual is an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, with all the associated issues. In addition to that, with 6 episodes, plus extras on one disc, compression artefacts were a tad more noticeable, particularly around scenes with busy motion, cloudy or foggy scenes, or fade outs and fade ins. It isn't all that pleasant when noticed, but thankfully it can be ignored. Otherwise the image is clear and vivid enough, although there is an overall softness to it, which I believe is intentional. The animation is astounding, approaching theatrical quality in terms of detail and vibrancy. There are very few static scenes here, the camera is used effectively and the fantasy world of Neo Verona is brought to striking life, with Gonzo's usual efficacy when it comes to combining 3D CG and traditional 2D animation. Value for money has to be balanced with quality transfers, and the trend in recent years has been towards value for money, hence the high episode count per disc. This series may have been better served across 6 discs, but of late, Funimation have been bringing out their series on Blu-ray as well. Upscales they may be, but it may be worth seeing how Romeo X Juliet looks in higher definition, and Romeo X Juliet was animated in native HD by Gonzo.
You have a choice between DD 2.0 Japanese, and DD 5.1 English along with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I first opted for the Japanese track, and as usual found it to be more than acceptable. Admittedly the stereo is a disappointment; for a show this extravagant there really ought to be a surround track worthy of the name. Especially when you consider the music. The themes are a suitable moving ballad opener, and something more rocky for the end credits, but the incidental music is stupendous, given the full orchestra, and really feeling like a proper Hollywood picture of yesteryear, full of rousing themes and gentle melodies. There's more than a bit of action as well that really could be elaborated on.
However, this is one of those rare anime where the English dub actually sounds better than the original Japanese, at least to my ears. I was interested to see which way they would go with this, and thankfully they've avoided the temptation to go for the full Shakespearean dialogue. There are hints of it in the more formal dialect of the nobles, and you will find more than a few Shakespearean quotes as well. More importantly, other than a few incidental characters, the cast really excel, as if they realise that they have to up their games to live up to something really special. On more than one occasion I noticed characters that actually felt performed better in English, the playwright Willy is a case in point. In the Japanese version he's a rather camp and effeminate stereotype, but in the English dub he develops a wicked way with the language, and a delightfully sardonic attitude. Maybe it's just that Shakespeare is best served in English…
You have a nice, easily navigable menu and your usual jacket picture, but for some bizarre reason, the episode titles differ from menu to actual programme.
Extras return for this third volume, and they comprise the original Japanese trailer, lengthy at 6 minutes, textless credits (including the second and more preferable closing theme), an art gallery with 44 concept and promo images, and finally trailers for Aquarion and Rozen Maiden.
I was beginning to second-guess myself with Romeo X Juliet. There is still that out of place taint of edutainment in my mind, which I mentioned in my volume 1 review, that Shakespeare ought to be bettering me as a person. I look back at my first two reviews, see the 9 out of 10 grade, and wonder if the series does actually deserve it, or if I may be nudging it up a bit because of the source material. Then I watch the third volume, and all those doubts are forgotten, as the series gets even better still, I'm enthralled during its runtime, and the final scene of the final episode gets me all misty-eyed. If Romeo X Juliet can get a big lummox like me sniffling, then surely it's doing something right.
While the first half of the series set the scene, introduced the characters, and began by developing the romance between Romeo and Juliet, this third volume takes the story in another direction, by separating the two. It's not such a bad thing, as the first half was bright, idealistic, teen love, an escapist fantasy for the two. Romeo escaped his duties and responsibilities as heir to the throne of Neo Verona, by pursuing this mysterious girl, while Juliet escaped her obligations to the Capulets and the reality of her situation, by falling for this elegant noble. Then the two of them tried escaping their reality altogether, by running away from home to find their own perfect world somewhere.
This third volume has to begin with another escape, considering that Juliet is behind bars for being a Capulet, about to be executed for that crime. But once that escape is accomplished, the story becomes about these two young people maturing into adulthood, finally facing their problems head on, and embracing their responsibilities instead of running from them. Both Romeo and Juliet swear that they are destined to be together, but rather than running from the world to do so, they both decide to change the world to one that will accept them in love. Romeo stands up to his father, goes against his wishes, and is exiled for his trouble, but rather than lament his situation, Romeo decides to use it to his advantage, and begins by improving the lot of the prisoners that he oversees. Juliet at the same time is back among her retainers, and is once again plotting Montague's downfall. The difference is that her experiences have tempered her, and she is acting from wisdom rather than passion. Falling in love with Romeo has taught her one thing. It isn't blood, or a name that is important. She no longer holds any malice for the father of her beloved. But she accepts that as long as Montague remains in power, the tyranny, the misery of Neo Verona's people will continue.
There is a lot more going on besides, machinations and developments at the court of Neo Verona, particularly Mercutio making his way into Montague's good graces, and learning a harsh lesson in what loyalty to such a man means. There is also Romeo's betrothed, Hermione, who works up a good head of steam at the harsh treatment of Romeo, and quickly (with a little prodding from Mercutio) comes to blame Juliet for all of it. Righteous anger quickly turns to irrational hatred, and the tension ratchets ever upwards, until inevitably the two young women meet. Of course there are more hints and glimpses of the Tree of Escalus, and what it means to Neo Verona, and it also becomes clear that it isn't just the people, it's the very land itself which is suffering under Montague's rule. But best of all, we finally get what I have been waiting three volumes for, some understanding into why Montague is the way he is. It doesn't serve to make him any more sympathetic as a character, indeed he's even more reprehensible as a result, but we do get an understanding as to why, and as a bonus, we learn more about Tybalt's past as well.
If I do have a slight, petty, and insignificant gadfly of an annoyance, it's that the story is unfolding very much as standard for a Gonzo tale. The fantasy setting, the two lovers, and the Shakespearean adaptation aside, there's something about the dark conspiracies, and the structure of the story, that puts me in mind of those future dystopian tales, the ones with giant robots, shows like Witchblade and Solty Rei. But Gonzo are apt to go with what they know best, and with a front end as appealing as this one, it doesn't matter that much that the same engine is purring away under the bonnet.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Romeo X Juliet is the peach of MVM's 2010 collection. It's an anime show that really ought to grace every shelf this year. I'm already looking forward to watching it again.