Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 10th 2009
Romeo x Juliet
DVD - Part 2
His long-time goals finally close to realization, Prince Montague wastes no time in sentencing the captured Juliet to death, but he is unable to convince his own son that Juliet has taken advantage of him. Juliet also has other steadfast allies willing to come to her rescue as well as one other who seeks to use her for another purpose. For his role in helping Juliet escape, Romeo finds himself exiled to the Gradisca mines, a harsh, hopeless place where those who have committed lesser offenses work themselves into the ground (both literally and figuratively), while Juliet is spirited away to Mantua, home to the summer estate of Lady Ariel, William's mother. Though forced apart, Romeo and Juliet both independently work to create a world where they can be together, while back in Neo Verona Mercutio maneuvers to gain greater power, though at a possibly unwelcome cost. Ultimately it falls to a freshly-resolved Juliet to lead the Capulets' bold strike against Montague, and the return of the Red Whirlwind to the stage heralds the beginning of the crusade. Even as Montague faces ultimate defeat, however, the danger is far from past, for the continent of Neo Verona itself is crumbling as Escalus, the tree that supports everything, withers. To save the world, a sacrifice must be made; does this mean that Romeo and Juliet's love was truly never meant to be?
“Reality often transcends fiction,” William says at one point. “And yet, people need stories of romance and heroism to navigate reality.”
And that's why we watch anime, isn't it? As much as it sometimes mirrors real life, anime is usually larger than life, or at the very least presents the humdrum that is daily life in a more interesting fashion. That was a big part of what made Shakespeare's plays so popular: people could let themselves get swept up in the grand events and emotive romances which played out on stage.
Gonzo seemed to have that sentiment firmly in mind when they made this reinterpretation of the basic story, as the second half of Romeo x Juliet is a mix of grand events, earnest love, and aspiring towards a future that, sadly, the main characters are not initially aware that they will not live to see. When Juliet is finally faced with that fateful choice – an epic love or sacrifice for the fate of many – the choice she must make is clear, but the unfairness of it is more heartbreaking here than in most similar circumstances because the series has gone to great effort to establish the legitimacy of the love she shares with Romeo. (One major advantage to the lengthening of a story that originally took place over only a few days is the development and deepening of Romeo and Juliet's love beyond basic impetuousness.) Romeo will not, of course, accept Juliet's resolution without a fight, therein setting up the doom that, almost until the last moment, the series seems to be angling to avoid.
For all that the series plays up the sweet romance of its lead couple, though, even Gonzo does not have the audacity to change that most integral of elements in the original story. Messing with how it happens is another matter, however. The climactic scenes still have their tragic aspects, their distinct elements of sorrow and strong emotional impact, and yet the aura of senseless waste which made the ending of the original so compelling is not there. Replacing it is a spirit more of heroic sacrifice mixed with the melancholy yet ennobling commitment of the two young lovers both to the vows they spoke back in episode 11 and to creating a new world for everyone. Reactions to this will vary widely; Shakespeare purists will undoubtedly hate it, while those who were always discontent with the original story may prefer this somewhat happier approach. Evaluated separately from the source material, it is an ending which verges on being overdramatized but never quite crosses the line, and the subtle touches in the epilogue are neat.
Not all of the second half is about the ending, however, as the story has quite a ways to go to get there. After a strong episode 13, the next couple of episodes, which focus primarily on Romeo's experiences in the mines, sag in both writing and artistic quality. Sure, showing how Romeo builds his resolve to change things with his own hands may have been necessary, but this is also the one place in the series where the plotting forces the story. Hermione also transforms into a nuisance character around this time, although she partly redeems herself with a great scene with Juliet late in episode 16 before being conveniently forgotten again until the very end. The story turns back in the right direction with the notion of a play being used as the foundation for revolution, in the process recapturing the dramatic flair which made the first half so good. Amidst it all the truth about Escalus, and its relationship to the Capulets, is finally realized. Not everything beyond episodes 14-16 is handled as elegantly as it could have been, and certainly the altered story depends heavily on some tried and true storytelling conventions, but it should keep viewers involved as the story builds towards its ultimate fate.
And man, if you thought Montague was a total bastard in the first half of the series, you ain't seen nothin' yet. The truths about his and Tybalt's connected pasts, as revealed in these episodes, may bring about an understanding concerning his motivations but certainly makes him no less evil; by the end of his story he stands as one of the great anime villains. Also quite interesting is watching the way the attitudes and demeanors of Mercutio and the guard captain change as they see the full extent of Montague's tyranny.
The second half artistic quality sag which Gonzo series are justly infamous for rears its ugly head early on in this set, especially in the character renderings. Episodes 14 and 15 are most guilty of this, though the lapses are not limited to that span; any time commoners appear in crowds, the rendering quality distinctly drops. The overall look mostly resumes its original grandeur by the later stages of this set, and the beautiful (if exaggerated) flourishes of the Red Whirlwind's dramatic leaps or Curio's aggressive combat style still shine. This span also delivers another kiss scene which may stand amongst anime's best and above-average fight animation, complete with some interesting angles. Additional noteworthy artistic touches include the way two characters' breaths frost up one cold night, the way Juliet's wet clothes lay differently upon her in one brief scene, the ranks of specifically faceless soldiers in one scene in episode 13, and the eyecatch for the final episode, which shows both Capulet and Montague emblems without color instead of the alternating blue-backed Montague or red-backed Capulet emblems seen in all previous episodes – a nicely symbolic touch.
While the artistry may have some issues, the music only gets better. Gone are the minor timing problems occasionally heard in the first half and the incongruous original closer passes on in favor of the much more suiting “Goodbye, Yesterday” beginning with episode 14. Freed from its flaws, and stocked with a few new themes and new variations on established themes, the symphonic soundtrack realizes its full potential, creating one of the best-sounding anime in recent memory.
According to the included English audio commentary for episode 24, more than a hundred voice actors auditioned for this series and nearly every notable Funimation regular wanted to be one of the leads. Brina Palencia and Chris Burnett were chosen out of that pack specifically because of the chemistry their voices had together (even though they never recorded at the same time), and that is evident in the English dub. Maxey Whitehead was seriously considered for nearly all of the female roles but wound up as Antonio because she outshined even actresses vastly more experienced at voicing boys; who else, American VA or seiyuu, could have pulled off that almost impossibly flawless effort with Antonio's final lines of the series? (Yes, that is still the same VA.) Hers is a talent to watch, and the audio commentary suggests that she will be seeing much more work in the future. ADR directors R Bruce Elliott and J. Michael Tatum continue to be wonderful as Conrad and William, respectively, and all the new roles show the meticulous effort that went into the casting. Sean Hannigan might be called out for not capturing the essence of Montague's demented obsession quite as well as the original performance in one or two scenes, but his own interpretation is generally good enough. Also noteworthy is the layered vocal effect applied to Jamie Marchi's performance of Ophelia to give her an otherworldly sound; if you have seen the later episodes of Claymore, it is not unlike the effect used there for Awakened Beings.
The English script, courtesy of a team led by Taliesin Jaffe, gives up on doing occasional full episodes in iambic pentameter (though the Next Episode previews still remain that way) in favor of the more consistent approach of infusing a general Shakespearean flavor into the regular dialogue, an effect the series sometimes also did in its first half. As a result, the phrasing, vocabulary, and metaphors used in many places still have a Shakespearean sound but without the cumbersome rigidity of the pentameter, which made efforts to force it into character lip flaps sometimes a bit awkward in those experimental first half episodes. Also mixed in are several additional lines borrowed from Shakespeare's works to supplement the lines that the original script already used, especially in William's revolutionary play; irritatingly, however, the DVD release does not include any notes detailing those references.
Aside from the aforementioned audio commentary, which focuses almost exclusively on various voice acting and scripting issues involving the series, the Extras on the second of two thinpacked disks include textless songs and original Japanese series trailers. The box this time has a red theme and features Juliet.
Almost lost in all the other details is the exceptionally well-executed brief series recap at the beginning of episode 14, which is handled so beautifully, and with such style and flair, that it may not have an equal amongst anime series. The second half has plenty enough else going for it to warrant a recommendation, however. This version of the classic tale of love and woe may not have quite the intensity of woe that the original does, but for the most part it works just fine.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A
+ Outstanding musical score, good fight animation, wonderfully executed love story.
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