Review for Romeo X Juliet: Volume 4
It's been a swift ride through the anime world of Romeo X Juliet, but here we are, already staring the conclusion in the face. It's an odd thing to be saying, but I find myself hoping that Romeo X Juliet does have a happy ending. Given how the Shakespeare play concludes, you would think that to be a forlorn hope, but Gonzo's adaptation of the classic tragedy is far enough removed from the source material to be considered a wholly different story. The names may be the same, but nothing else is in this charming fantasy series. The storytelling and the performances have been good enough to grab the attention though; certainly enough to draw me in and have me emotionally invest in the characters. So I find myself in the bizarre position of hoping that Romeo and Juliet have a happily ever after. But not even Gonzo can be that unfaithful to the source material, surely?
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 final release still bears the legacy of the US and Australian discs and it's subtitled Juliet Disc 2. The six episodes on this disc conclude the story.
19. Succession ~I Am None Other~
Willy's play is turning out to be a big hit, and its thinly veiled tale of a young orphan girl with a powerful legacy, falling for the son of the man who destroyed her family, is doing its job of reinventing the history of the Capulets. The only problem is that Juliet has rewritten the script. She was supposed to play the dashing knight who rescued the young lovers, only she's decided that the play is the ideal moment for the Red Whirlwind to return, and that is just the impetus to send her and her retainers back to Neo Verona, to finish what they started. And this time, they have the people on their side.
20. Duty ~Unwavering Step~
The crops are failing, which could spell doom for Romeo's settlement of escaped prisoners. He seeks out the old man for advice, and learns of the tree of Escalus that keeps Neo Verona aloft, keeps the people alive, and he also learns of the sin of man, that has doomed the tree, and all mankind in turn. He has one chance to save everyone, if he takes on Juliet's burden. He returns to Neo Verona, determined to convince his father to abdicate, but events have already forged on ahead, Juliet and the people now hold the outer city, and the aristocracy are besieged within the centre. Montague has already figured out the solution. If the people turn on him, get rid of the people. But when his orders to set fire to the commoners' district are disobeyed, he really gets brutal. Meanwhile Juliet learns that she carries the fate of the world within her.
21. The Covenant ~The Goddess's Embrace~
The tremors have caused enough damage to the city already, and people are taking refuge in the city's plazas, but the last thing they need is Mercutio leading a force firebombing the city. It's the last straw for Romeo, and he decides that he will stop his father, no matter what it takes. Although they meet briefly, Juliet is unable to share with him what she has learned about her destiny. But even as the Capulets plan their final move against Montague, and amidst all the mayhem and destruction in the city, there is room for one happy event.
22. Curse ~Raging Fury~
Romeo steels himself to deal with his father, Tybalt swears to kill him for vengeance, and while Juliet no longer acts from malice, or even as a Capulet, there's no denying the advent of destiny as her followers gear up for the final battle. It's all a matter of just who will get to Montague first.
23. Seed Brought To Life ~The Kiss Of Death~
The Capulet standard flies once more over Neo Verona's castle, but it may be a short reign as the tremors intensify, the ground starts to crack, and the continent starts its slow plummet downwards. Romeo believes that the best thing is to go back to his village, while Juliet assumes her rightful place on the throne, but at the last, Tybalt tells him what Juliet is planning. It may already be too late though.
24. Prayer ~In The Same World As You~
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…
This is the final review of Romeo X Juliet, the conclusion, and the last thing that you'd be wanting from me at this point is any excessive detail regarding the end. You don't want to know if this actually follows the Shakespeare tragedy that it's adapted from, or if it suddenly pulls a happy ending out of thin air, or if it finds a different, third path that we've neither been expecting nor hoping for. So my brief here is to be as succinct as my own proclivities to ramble permit, and to avoid those dreaded spoilers, while supplying my overall impression of the final six episodes, and whether I come away from the series with more positives than negatives. Let me put it this way, it all goes a little Gonzo for the conclusion…
Gonzo are a singular anime studio, excelling in visuals, with a trademark for action and eye candy, telling stories that often seem cut from the same cloth, but can occasionally provide something different and innovative. But if they do have a fault, it's that they very often fail to give their anime suitable conclusions. They either leave things open ended, they over-egg the pudding, or they go off at a strange unexpected tangent. Off hand, I can think of only three Gonzo shows that have really given me an ending that satisfied, Gankutsuou, Welcome to the NHK, and Speedgrapher. Romeo X Juliet isn't the fourth to go on that list.
Romeo X Juliet is one of those Gonzo shows that go off at a strange tangent. Up till episode 22, it's the same tragic romance that I've been eagerly following thus far. Can Romeo and Juliet ever be together, despite the tragedy that befell Juliet's family, despite the dark heritage that Romeo stands to inherit, despite the whole world looking harshly at the possibility of them even being together, and despite countless other adversities? It's strong character driven drama, smartly written, enthusiastically performed, and downright unmissable stuff. You want to know about these people, what drives them, why they are the way they are, and how fate will unfold for them. There are elements of hope and fear in that which makes this tale so compelling. I wound up investing in all of the characters, even the incidental ones, so that when two of the lesser characters managed to find time to get hitched in the show, it was satisfying and rewarding to watch.
But then episode 23 arrives, and with it Gonzo ditch the character driven drama, ditch the tragedies of romance and revenge, love and adverse destiny, and instead focus on a whopping great maguffin to drive the final two episodes. Yes the tree of Escalus has been a part of the plot since the start of the series, hints and suggestions, ominous rumblings have continued as the episodes progressed, but the conclusion boils the story down to Romeo, Juliet, and an apocalyptic scenario of the sort that usually demands a sacrifice, and the question is simplified to happy ending or not. All the cool character stuff, the antagonism between the Capulets and the Montagues, the emotional turmoil that caused such fraught tension between the young lovers has already been solved, and what's left is really quite stale, predictable and not really that emotionally involving. I knew where the story was going, but that investment I had in the characters failed to ignite.
To put it another way, two lovers torn apart by fate, by being born into the wrong families, and by their own torn loyalties is interesting. A whopping great tree, a glowing seed, a transformation into some kind of green-winged angel, is not interesting. All that said however, Romeo X Juliet does pull something back for the end of the final episode, and once the maguffin has been dealt with, it does hit the right emotional notes to get you feeling a little bit sniffly in time for the end credits.
Romeo X Juliet has been a top notch anime series though, certainly MVM's highlight of the year thus far, and the loose adaptation of the Shakespeare classic, while not a patch on the source material, has been great quality in its own right. It's intelligent and smart storytelling that we don't often see from the medium, and it doesn't pander to audience expectations. If it weren't for those final two episodes, I'd be bandying words like classic, and timeless, but as it is, I can only recommend this show as just being very good. It's certainly not faint praise, but I do envisage stopping at episode 22 the next time I watch this show. It's certainly enough to convince me to nudge the grade down a tad.