The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Boarding School Juliet
What's It About?Romio Inuzuka, head honcho of the Nation of Touwa's first-year representatives at the esteemed Dahlia Academy, has a secret. The de facto Black Doggy leader is in love with his archenemy: Juliet Persia, leader of the White Cats, head of the first-years at the academy from the Principality of the West. When Black Doggy meets White Cat on campus, fisticuffs fly in a proxy battle to settle the tensions between their two sovereign nations.
Juliet is Romio's equal in battle—and one of the most beautiful girls on campus. When he confesses his feelings in the middle of a solo skirmish, Juliet surprises him by admitting she feels the same. However, their love could spark a real war outside of the academy walls, so they must keep their romance a secret. Fighting by day, flirting by night, these two would-be lovers just want to find a rare moment to steal away together.
Boarding School Juliet volume 1 (4/10/2018) is an original manga by Yousuke Kaneda. It's a digital-first title available for $10.99 from Kodansha Comics and on comiXology. An upcoming anime adaptation is slated to air in Japan at an undisclosed date.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Boarding School Juliet takes the warring-families and star-crossed-lovers themes from Romeo & Juliet—as well as the main characters' names—but that's where the similarities to the classic play end. On this fictional, isolated school campus, the White Cats from the West and the Black Doggies from the East represent their home nations, two differing civilizations at war by proxy with their student representatives duking it out on campus in one-on-one battles. Making the lead fighters for each side secretly in love at least gives this bland storyline somewhere interesting to go—because they can't let anyone from either side discover these enemies are secret lovers. However, it gets tiresome to see the two constantly try to sneak away for a private moment only to smack each other the moment someone walks in on them.
The running gag of Romio always striking the first blow when they're discovered and truly hurting his beloved girlfriend without even realizing is especially grating, even if Juliet is quick to forgive after she gets in a good blow of her own. The side characters are virtually non-entities, reduced to single character traits and barely present—at least until Princess Char, childhood best friend of Juliet and blackmailer of Romio, appears toward the end. She reveals another side to herself before the first volume is over, but hopefully her story has already run its course and won't continue to dog Romio in the same fashion for volumes to come. The joke runs thin pretty fast. It's also irritating that Romio never once thinks to confide in his girlfriend why he's at Char's beck and call, especially since he already supposedly learned his lesson about underestimating Juliet's strength and determination. Miscommunication and hurt feelings abound in a contrived manner because of this decision.
Kaneda's art is one of this volume's strengths, his use of light versus dark to highlight the cat vs. doggy battle especially ingenious. The skirmishes are another strongpoint, with high school warriors drawn in action poses as they clash in hand-to-hand combat. The characters are pleasant to look at, if not particularly original. Backgrounds are somewhat on the sparser side, but they do nicely bring to life this fantastical, posh academy when they are in focus.
Boarding School Juliet volume 1 is not as funny or as fun as it tries to be, but it's not a total bore, either. The two main characters are interesting enough to carry the story, though they're virtually the only characters of note at all. This first volume offers cute girls, good action shots, and a middling story and may at least grow to become more interesting in volumes to come.
I have to admit that I'm of the opinion that calling Romeo and Juliet romantic is like saying that the Macbeths have a good marriage or that Hamlet's family is super functional. Fortunately, Boarding School Juliet is only concerned with the part of the story where Romeo and Juliet are from warring families and like each other. Romio Inuzuka has a raging crush on Juliet Persia, but they're from countries that fight like cats and dogs, almost literally – Inuzuka's country is represented by dogs and the word “dog” is in his last name and Persia's is represented by a cat, with her family name being a reference to the Persian breed of cat. (A later character, the princess of Persia's country, is named for the Chartreux breed, which is the kind of cat French author Collette wrote about in two of her novels.) Thus the concept is much more based on the perception of what Shakespeare's play is about than the actual tragedy.
That puts Boarding School Juliet pretty firmly in line with other light shounen romances, like Nisekoi or Kaguya-sama: Love is War. The major difference here is that Romio and Juliet actually would like to date each other and do acknowledge that they like each other, with Romio considerably more enthusiastic about things. The catch is that they'll both lose standing within their communities if people find out, because regardless of the fact that kids from both nations are sent to Dahlia Island for school in the ostensible hope that they'll get along and maybe not try to kill each other as adults, prejudices still hold sway. Romio is much less concerned with how things will turn out than Juliet is, which may come down to the fact that she's from a noble family and is much more aware of what's at stake than he is. (He may also be a noble, but nothing's been said about it as of yet.) This means that most of this volume consists of Romio chasing Juliet even after she's agreed to go out with him while she tries to keep the rest of the school from figuring out what's going on. It's not that he's unaware of why they have to be careful, however; it's more that he's just so damn happy that he can't help himself from wanting to be with her as much as he can.
There's a possible sub-romance brewing between their subordinates that may develop as the story goes on, which could make things entertainingly complicated, especially if Romio and Juliet don't know about it at first, and that would be a good way for things to progress. The task after this introductory volume is going to be to balance the romance with the need to keep it secret while still making room for the humor, which is at times used to really good effect, such as Romio's initial confession or when his subordinate gets the wrong idea about what gender he likes after spotting Romio with “Julio.” Simply put, while this could start dragging as early as volume two, this first book is fun in the sense that it's a light rom-com with art that's pleasant to look at. If rivals in love is your thing, it's worth checking out.
I'm not sure it's possible to freshen up a romance as played-out as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but Boarding School Juliet gives it the old college try by transplanting the star-crossed lovers into a fictional boarding school and recasting our Montegues and Capulets as rival country dorm members. It also does away with any sense of seriousness or stakes for an otherwise typical high school romance. Romio is the head of the unfortunately named “Black Doggies” and Juliet the “White Cats.” Their rivalry isn't really explained outside of loose politics about each character's respective countries as the source of the animosity.
As a reader, you have to glance over this bit as little more than convenient. Besides, it's barely a chapter before the two leads decide to become an item. This story is more interested in watch the pair grow together and what shenanigans they get into while hiding their relationship than the usual “will they or won't they” that plagues both girl and boy-targeted romance manga. Even Romio and Juliet's respective rivals are treated as little more than slapstick diversions. There isn't much dramatic conflict going on outside the general “no one can find out we're together” situation.
Its action sequences, mainly the various squabbles between the two factions, are the lowest point. There's a sexual assault scene early on that gives Romio the chance to play hero and any time the couple is caught together after dating, Romio pretends to be physically attacking Juliet to starve off suspicion. These attacks are usually Looney Tunes level but I didn't find them particularly funny.
What keeps the pages flipping is its few unique surprises. The latter half introduces us to one of the West's princesses who begins negging on Romio as soon she discovers he and Juliet are romantically involved. It's obvious her motivation is jealousy but not for Romio's affections, but Juliet's instead. This series' love quadrangles seem more open to entertaining any potential suitor for either Romio or Juliet, making developments more difficult to guess in what is otherwise a very by-the-books romance.
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