Author: William Shakespeare/GONZOxSPWT
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2010
Synopsis: “For fourteen years, Neo Verona has lived in terror of Lord Montague’s iron rule. But in their despair, a light shines forth! Donning the guise of the Crimson Whirlwind, Juliet Capulet has chosen the path of the mercenary, opposing Montague on behalf of the people. When she falls for a noble who seems sympathetic to her cause, Juliet is devastated to learn he is a Montague!”
It’s always tricky reviewing manga that was based on an anime. It’s tempting to give flaws a pass, as in the back of your mind there’s a voice whispering “Well, maybe they handled it better in the anime.” But eventually, like anything and not just manga, you have to look at it on its own terms and not in relation to something else. With that in mind, Romeo and Juliet is a fun manga. There are certain rushed plot points, but maybe they were handled better in the – oops, sorry, won’t happen again.
Back to the manga. It is helpful to forget everything you know about Romeo and Juliet before reading this comic. In fact, it would help if you forgot Shakespeare’s entire cannon. I say this because any fan of the bard who seeks this out may be disappointed by how his story was translated. You could write tons of essays dissecting what themes are lost or gained in the translation, why certain story points were omitted and new sub-plots added, and whether one of the world’s classic love stories really needed winged horses.
There are also shout-outs to other Shakespeare works (not only are there characters named after prominent roles in other plays, but there’s a character very loosely based on William Shakespeare himself), yet they are hollow and are little more than shallow references. But once again, things need to be taken on their own terms, not constantly compared to other things, whether they be the latest eye-candy from Studio Gonzo, a classic piece of literature, or a 1996 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
So, once again, back to the manga. Juliet is living a double-life-within a double life. Since she was a little girl she has been raised as a boy, but on top of that she is also the Red Whirlwind, a robin hood like figure who fights to protect the oppressed people of Neo Verona from Lord Montague’s cruel rule. While escaping from Montague’s thugs a young noble boy saves her.
Even if you somehow have no knowledge of the plot of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ you can probably guess that not only will Juliet will fall in love with the noble stranger, but that he will turn out to be Romeo Montague, the son of lord Montague, her only love sprung from her only hate, etc, etc.
Juliet doesn’t realize just how bad things are until her guardians reveal her true identity. She is the last of the Capulet house, the only survivor of a massacre that took place fourteen years earlier. The people now look to Juliet to lead them in a rebellion against the Montagues.
There was a lot of potential here to have a fun, swashbuckling romance in the same vein as ‘The Three Musketeers’. There are lots of sword fights, but the way they’re laid out barely shows the action. The way the action pieces are portrayed is minimal. It’s the kind of manga where a lot of action happens between panels, or where an important part of the fight occurs off-page but with sound effects to hint at what is going on. It is incredibly frustrating, especially when you can see glimmers of what might have been had the action been paced better.
The romance fares a little better. The best part of the book is when Romeo and Juliet actually get to spend some time together in the country side. It’s a nice sequence as it doesn’t feel nearly as rushed as the rest of the book does. Romeo is a bit of a dull character, but he’s likeable enough. Luckily, Juliet is far more interesting and most of the plot rests upon her shoulders.
Yet even a strong lead character can’t hold up the manga when it all goes crazy in the second half. There’s a plot development that gets thrown in out of nowhere and isn’t every fully explained. The plot twist moves the series from adventure-romance to sci-fi/fantasy, and the transition is a bumpy one.
While the story fluctuates, the art is at least consistent. While I already mentioned my issue with the action scenes, the layouts elsewhere work better. The character designs are really beautiful, even if the style doesn’t really distinguish itself. The characters look pretty, but they also look like they could be from a handful of other series. There’s no distinct stamp to them that makes them stand out as being part of the cast of Romeo x Juliet.
I really like Yen Press’s release of this manga: there’s just something so nice about having a big volume of manga in your hands. The wraparound cover looks beautiful, and inside there’s colour pages as well as author’s notes.
I enjoyed Romeo x Juliet, but that little voice in the back of my mind was always there, reminding me that there was an anime that already did all of it first and probably better. I guess it’s a compliment to the manga that it’s made me even more eager to see the series, but it also shows that the manga just isn’t satisfying on its own.