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While watching Romeo x Juliet, I was constantly trying to guess where the story was going, and was mostly pessimistic about it. I can say that the ending was mostly better than I expected, but I’d still like to talk a little about the ideas I had along the way, and the series as a whole. So, today on The Anime Harvest, some small thoughts on Romeo x Juliet.

Romeo x Juliet is 24 episode shoujo series, a reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s more angsty plays. It stars Juliet Fiammata Arst De Capulet and Romeo Candore De Montague, but rather than focusing on them as spoiled brats with poor conflict resolution skills, the anime actually separates the two to grow individually as leaders for most of the runtime, which brings me to my first point: The characters are much better developed than I expected.

Not to say Shakespeare’s characters were underdeveloped, but most adaptations don’t really flesh them out. By going its own way, both in narrative and characterization, this adaptation manages to create its own Romeo and Juliet, rather than borrow from the play.

Juliet is initially completely unaware of her family history. She is the last surviving Capulet, and was a baby when her family was wiped out by the power-hungry Lord Montague, Romeo’s father. Growing up in secret, disguised as a boy, she took on the masked identity The Red Whirlwind to fight against the unjust powers in Neo Verona. And, on her sixteenth birthday, her family name was revealed and her father’s sword was bestowed to her, along with the responsibility to claim vengeance against Lord Montague. But she struggles with such a tall duty, leading a revolution, and knowing how to hate the man who is the father of the boy she loves.

Romeo is a little less interesting. He has to come to terms with having lived a privileged life by unjust means, criticizing his own father’s lordship, and trying to earn the respect of the people. After abandoning the bride approved by his father to run away with Juliet, Romeo is sent to oversee a prison mining camp. He see the treatment of the prisoners as unfair, and joins them in their labour as a gesture of his compassion for the people. Later, after working hard to earn the prisoners’ trust and respect, he leads them out of the mine, to a place where they can start new lives.

Obviously a major departure from the original story, but the key elements are still there; lovers separated by family and politics, secret meetings, and even the quintessential balcony scene. All the rest just changes the characters from naïve, dumb, obnoxious, horny teenagers, to respectable leaders. Of course, while they’re much more likeable, there is something lost in this change. In the play, a big area of discussion is whether the “lovers” were in true love, or they were just dumb kids who didn’t have their emotions straightened out yet and just wanted to bang. I’ve always leaned on the latter (I mean, having them both die doesn’t seem like Shakespeare was endorsing their love), but in Romeo x Juliet there really is a true-love-conquers-all vibe.

Like so many other retellings of the story, I expected Romeo x Juliet to give me the same, sappy, “Their love was eternal” double suicide ending. While I wasn’t exactly wrong about that, I was wrong to think it would suck.

 

The major turning point for me was around episode 20. This was when I figured a dull, sappy ending was coming, but wasn’t sure in what form. Juliet had assembled an army and stormed Neo Verona to remove Lord Montague from the throne. Romeo, however, was far away, helping his miner friends take up farming in their new village. When he got word of what was happening in the city, he was warned against trying to change Juliet’s destiny. I took this to mean he shouldn’t go back to the city to help her, which is why I was suddenly intrigued when he did just that.

When Romeo arrived in Neo Verona, the revolting people didn’t treat him so much like a saviour as, well, the son of the guy they were revolting against. He wanted to get into the castle to speak to his father and try to convince him to change his ways. They wanted him to either turn around and leave, or just die. In steps Juliet, leader of the revolution, to decide whether Romeo is granted safe passage or not.

This, I thought, was the big moment. The decision that will change everything. If she turns him away, she’ll maintain her standing as the unyielding warrior for the people, but Romeo will never be accepted in Neo Verona again. If she lets him pass, the people will begin to doubt her motives and resolve, and turn on her. And if the final episodes had built on that conflict, I think it would have been awesome.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. Romeo was granted passage, and while it earned Juliet some dirty looks for that scene, it was never a big deal. Where the ending actually went, and the true meaning of Romeo’s warning not to interfere with Juliet’s destiny is… a lot stranger, and not something I’m going to talk about here. It’s not bad, but it is a little ridiculous.

 

Having not even talked about the shoddy animation, great writing, details of the plot, or even most of the characters (like, Shakespeare himself is character here. And he’s voiced by Michael Tatum! It’s awesome.), I’ll just say that Romeo x Juliet is a pretty damn good reimagining. The themes and messaging are complete departed for the original work, and the plot and characters are almost entirely new, but it keeps the core of the play while telling its own story.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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