“Two households, both alike in dignity. In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny. Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes. A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”
Romeo and Juliet is not only one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays but it’s one of the most iconic love stories ever told. We all know how the story goes, and yet it still remains incredibly powerful 400 years after it was written.
What’s different about Romeo x Juliet is that it does some role reversals and isn’t entirely faithful but the key events of the play are still there. The premise of the anime is that the Montagues rule the city of Neo-Verona after murdering the Capulets. However, Juliet managed to survive the slaughter and is now tasked with reclaiming the throne which proves difficult when she falls in love with Lord Montague’s only son, Romeo.
Here, the role reversal shows Juliet as a sword-wielding character, compassionate yet prone to emotional outbursts, while Romeo is a more naive, daydreaming character betrothed to someone he doesn’t love. The anime modernises the play but it’s still incredibly true to the original play in regards to the themes of young love, blood-feud, and the want for your own identity. The writers do such an amazing job with Juliet and the layers that make her character, leaving Romeo fairly dull in comparison by being so domesticated.
Now a city floating in the sky, flying horses and fighting females clearly demonstrate that this isn’t an entirely faithful adaption. There are more fantastical elements in the anime and this is where the largest difference from the play can be found. Unfortunately, one of these elements ties into how the circumstances of the ending are changed and that particular fantasy element isn’t built up well. However, because the anime has modernised the story for this generation, some of the problems that can come because of Romeo and Juliet‘s age have been corrected. An example of this would be how Juliet reacts when she finds out who Romeo really is. Unlike the play, this news shocks her and she doesn’t pursue a relationship with Romeo as quickly, fighting her desire.
The anime interprets Romeo and Juliet in much more of a romantic light rather than the doomed romance in the original play. This is one of the key problems with the ending to Romeo x Juliet version. When it comes to the original play, it’s easy to understand why this story was going to end the way it did. The original Romeo and Juliet were so swept up in the feelings of love that their actions became increasingly disastrous and arguably selfish. So, when the inevitable happened in the play, it was foreshadowed and it felt earned. In the anime, Romeo and Juliet aren’t as problematic so the tragic ending doesn’t resonate as strongly, instead feeling forced.
This may be controversial to say given this is anime, but I honestly think that the dub is better than the Japanese version. In fact, I think the dub is probably the saving grace. The Japanese version has lines that are more straightforward and it doesn’t capture the theatrical, dramatic and poetic feel of Romeo and Juliet. The dub, on the other hand, really puts in all the effort; characters speak in an Elizabethan tone and iambic pentameter for the most part. It’s not perfect as this tone does occasionally vanish in some moments, and the characters sometimes speak like they live in the 21st century. This makes the dubbed version feel like it’s running to the finish line.
Another thing to note is that the anime also has references to Shakespeare’s other works, with characters occasionally speaking lines from his other plays, or even occasionally using their titles in sentences. Some of these references are more subtle than others but if you are experienced with Shakespeare’s work then you will spot mostly all of them. Now this could come across as a forced attempt to be clever, but it flows well and they even integrate a William Shakespeare character into the anime, adding comic relief while also adding some of the poetic dialogue we associate with Shakespeare at this point.
The animation is very humble as it feels more like a Disney animation than it does a Japanese one. The characters are really human-looking and the background animation in Romeo x Juliet is beautiful yet simple. It fits the story well because of the fantasy tone that the anime creates.
What isn’t so humble is the soundtrack. The soundtrack in Romeo x Juliet is simply amazing and incredibly versatile. It ranges from heartbreaking, intense, gentle, romantic, and emotional. It supports every scene in the series and has the power to create emotion all on its own. The highlight being You Raise Me Up and its multiple uses in the anime, sung in Japanese, English, or simply presented in an instrumental form. It never stops being powerful and essentially becomes one of the symbols of the Romeo x Juliet anime.
Romeo x Juliet isn’t an anime without flaws. The essential elements of the original story and themes are there but the changes that are seen in the anime are hit or miss depending on your personal preferences. The fan service in regards to Shakespeare’s work and the grand theatrical tone is really what makes this anime worth watching but if you want something completely grounded in reality or something that improves on the original play entirely then you’re going to be disappointed.
Written by Xenia Grounds