The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Boarding School Juliet
How would you rate episode 1 of
Boarding School Juliet ?
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How was the first episode?
My feelings on Boarding School Juliet seesawed wildly throughout this premiere. We started at the relative neutral of “okay, middling aesthetics, but the dialogue seems pretty convincing,” took a nosedive at “really, we're using attempted rape as a plot device again?”, and then essentially accelerated upwards for the whole last act, as the show surprised me with a final scene that impressed in both concept and execution. I didn't really have any expectations for this one, but ended the episode both impressed by its dramatic choices and genuinely invested in whatever comes next.
Juliet's concept is an obvious and abundantly anime-friendly one: “what if we transposed Romeo and Juliet to rival dorms at a high school?” Our male hero Romio Inuzuka stands as the leader of Black Doggy House, while his long-loved counterpart Juliet Persia leads the White Cats House. Of course, Persia doesn't know Inuzuka is in love with her; in fact, she's always seen him holding back against her in battles as a sign of disrespect, and fumes at the indignity of the situation.
That fundamental misunderstanding essentially fuels the drama of this first episode, and it's very strong fuel. Outside of that tonally inappropriate and horribly clumsy attempted rape scene, all of the misunderstandings here are based in sympathetic feelings that humanize each of our leads. You can easily see why these two would work so well as both rivals and lovers, and Persia's struggle against what society expects of her both adds texture to her as a person and also gives us a natural long-term conflict to move towards. Not every joke here lands, but the sum of generally solid humor and strong characterization makes for a consistently enjoyable watch.
If that were all there is to it, I'd probably give Juliet a flat three. What pushes it up to genuine recommendation territory is the final scene, where Inazuka confesses his feelings in a duel that dazzles both in writing and visual execution. Accompanied by genuinely impactful sword strokes, the two relay their feelings and frustrations with an honesty you normally just see in the final episode of romcoms like this. And by the end of the episode, they're actually dating, albeit in secret for the moment.
While “will they or won't they” romances are a dime a dozen in anime, shows about actual, active couples are far more rare. Boarding School Juliet seems like it possesses the strength of character writing to actually take advantage of that premise, and the show was funny and well-executed enough to recommend regardless. Boarding School Juliet gets a thumbs up from me.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but this show is adorable. To be specific, it's adorably stupid. Well, mostly adorably stupid apart from a couple of moments where it's just plain stupid. What I'm trying to say is that I had much more fun with this premiere than I expected to, even if that fun does happen to be of the goofy, guilty pleasure variety. Boarding School Juliet takes the classic star-crossed lovers premise, molds it into a school battle series, and then filters it through the “everyone's an idiot” style of humor commonly used by ensemble romantic comedies like School Rumble. That collection of genres and plot points has no business working as well as it does here, but I'm not complaining.
It helps that the two romantic leads are well-matched with one another. Romio is a comically misunderstood delinquent, an invincible tough guy on the outside and a sappy doofus on the inside. His frequent meltdowns create an entertaining contrast with the rowdy atmosphere in his faction, but there's also something endearing about his simple desire to stop all the fighting and tell Juliet how he feels. For her part, Juliet is competent and ambitious without coming across as too perfect or aloof, thanks in part to her short temper when it comes to anything remotely related to Romio. Their chemistry with one another is strong from both a comedic and romantic standpoint, and this episode does a decent job with its limited dramatic elements apart from an ill-considered scene where Juliet is attacked by some of Romio's less chivalrous minions. At this point, can we just declare a general moratorium on creepy dudes slicing people's shirts open?
In general, though, the drama plays a secondary role to the comedy. In fact, some of this episode's funniest moments come from a character's big monologue being derailed by a well-timed joke, which suggests that Boarding School Juliet is in no danger of taking itself too seriously any time soon. The humor isn't especially smart or original, but the delivery is sharp and energetic enough to make even the dumb gags amusing. The occasional action scenes are decent if unspectacular, and once again serve more as setups for jokes than as legitimately thrilling battles.
I don't know how well Boarding School Juliet will be able to maintain its momentum beyond this first episode, but for now it's delightfully dumb apart from one or two genuine missteps. If it can develop the story in a way that makes the most of its comedic strengths, it has the potential to be this season's most appetizing piece of brain candy. On the other hand, the original play doesn't end well for any of the main characters, so for all I know we could still be headed for a tragedy. In any case, I intend to enjoy the goofy fun for as long as it lasts.
I'm a simple man. Beneath my jaded exterior beats the heart of a kid who has always loved sappy romances, especially when the romantic leads are catastrophic dorks. Such is the case with Boarding School Juliet, the 15,764th remixing of Shakespeare's classic play, and one of my favorite premieres so far this fall. This is a goofy, well-produced YA romance that takes the classic formula of two young lovers divided by warring houses and flips the script to make their romance fit perfectly within the confines of a more action-oriented anime setting. Instead of being a passive lovestruck child, this Juliet is both the leader of her prestigious high school house and its fiercest fighter; she's a driven young woman who is determined to change the status quo of her stuffy noble milieu through sheer brute force and ambition.
Romio, on the other hand, is a complete nerd, whose outwardly badass persona melts like butter when he even thinks of Juliet. His attempts to communicate his feelings for her either end in him crying or running away screaming, and I kind of love it, because all of these comedic overreactions betray a genuine desire on Romio's part to empathize with Juliet and understand her perspective. Their entire relationship only becomes tenable when Romio realizes that Juliet doesn't want to be coddled or shielded from the world – she needs to be respected as an equal and given the opportunity to express her strength and skill on a level playing field. I always prefer anime romances that are willing to explore a couple being together, instead of just focusing on adolescent pining, and Romio and Juliet are off to a great start.
There is a fly in the ointment, though. Romio and Juliet only come to have this fateful confrontation in the first place because Juliet doesn't know how to process Romio rescuing her from three of his own followers' attempt to sexually assault her. Almost all of the violence in this premiere is played for laughs, but the Black Doggy's attack on Juliet is uncomfortable and completely unnecessary – the fight could have simply been an unfair three-on-one attack, Romio still could have intervened, and the plot would have arrived at the same place in the end. Instead, we get another hacky instance of near-rape being used as a plot device, and the tonal dissonance really hurts this otherwise excellent premiere. I was glad to see the three idiots get the crap kicked out of them, but when Romio refers to being put in “the biggest pinch of his life” due to the assault , it's clear that the show isn't giving the subject the attention and nuance it deserves. Hopefully it won't rely on such tired and potentially harmful clichés in the future.
Other than this glaring low point, I really loved Boarding School Juliet's premiere, and I'm excited to see what becomes of these two kids in the coming weeks. The animation is colorful and clean, the action beats are surprisingly satisfying, and I'm completely on board for the cheesy romance. If you're looking for something light and cute to balance out the season's more serious fare, then look no further. You just might want to skip from minute 12:00 to minute 14:00 if you're put off by the show's handling of sexual violence.
While I don't think I would call it one of my favorite stories, one thing I have long respected about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is its quintessential concept. You can muddle with the specifics, transplant it into just about any setting or culture in the world, and the story will can work. Of course, some approaches work better than others. Boarding School Juliet takes a much different and (mostly) far less serious approach to the concept than other anime predecessors like Romeo X Juliet, and while it doesn't work as well, it still shows some potential with its first episode.
The basic structure of warring houses (in this case countries whose students live in side-by-side dorms) is there; in fact, except for the Romeo and Juliet stand-ins being present, the opening scenes of this episode are practically a direct rip of the the original's beginning, down even to the Prince stand-in and her entourage arriving to stop the brawl and put out a dire warning about consequences for continued fighting. The notion of Romeo having fallen head-over-heals for Juliet is also intact, although in this case they've had feelings for each other since they were little kids but never admitted it. From that point, the episode diverges more as it tries to mix lighthearted and more serious content, though the balance isn't smooth and there definitely look to be more girls getting in the way this time. (Advertising art for the series gives the impression that it's going to also be a harem series of sorts, which I hope isn't the case because I can't see how that could work.) Still, the episode does at least bring the two together by the end in confessions of love and an agreement to a secret relationship.
While I liked the way the fountain scene was handled, I'm not as thrilled with Juliet Persia herself. The story tries to make her both strong and emotionally vulnerable, a potential reformer but also a convincing lover, but that isn't coming together so well; she comes off more as mercurial, which doesn't seem to fit Juliet's role to me. (There's a reason why Mercutio took that name and role in the original story.) This is also looking to be a sexier take on the story; fan service isn't pervasive in this episode but definitely present. Despite some pretty individual scenes, this isn't among the season's more technically impressive titles, either.
For all the show's faults, I still find it entertaining and could see myself watching more. If nothing else, I'm at least curious to see how far the parallels to the source material will be taken.
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