In the floating city of Neo Verona, the Capulet family ruled peacefully- until the night Lord Montague massacred them and took control of the city for himself. Unbeknownst to him, however, the surviving friends and retainers of the family take it upon themselves to rescue Capulet’s daughter Juliet and raise her in secret, all the while keeping her unaware of her true heritage. Now, fourteen years later, Juliet has finally come of age, and so the time has come for her to learn the truth- and hopefully lead an uprising against Montague’s increasingly cruel regime. Juliet, however, has other concerns, for she has just met a young man named Romeo- and it is only after she starts falling in love with him that she learns he is the son of her enemy Montague.
Romeo and Juliet is that one Shakespeare play that everyone knows almost inside out- if you haven’t studied it in school, then chances are you’ve been subjected to one of the many adaptations, from the old 70s film where all the protagonists wore hilariously awful costumes to the more recent effort involving Leonardo di Caprio. With the market for the world’s most famous tragic love story so flooded already, there hardly seemed room to pack in an anime series as well, but despite their amazingly poor track record at adaptations, Gonzo decided to give it a shot.
As it turned out, they might as well not have named the series “Romeo X Juliet” at all- Ryutaro X Jun would have done just as well. Yes, there were two tragic lovers from opposing families, but wasn’t the original set in the distinctly land-based city of Verona, rather than the floating continent of Neo Verona? Certainly the original didn’t have magical trees, flying horses and the perplexing presence of Shakespeare himself within the play; nor did the original Juliet don a cape and mask and fight for the rights of the oppressed peasants under the alias of the ‘Red Whirlwind’. Alterations were the order of the day, but at first, that didn’t matter- if you forgot its origins and just treated it as another anime series, the whole thing seemed like a mildly entertaining romantic fantasy.
Unfortunately, things soon took a downward turn when it became clear that instead of throwing the original plot out of the window in favour of a new one, Gonzo didn’t actually have anything much to offer in the story department. For fear of moving too fast and thus running out of story, characters dithered around for episodes on end, going round in circles and never experiencing any real development. Juliet was meant to be leading an uprising, but the time was never right, whilst Romeo only managed to get himself sent out to some distant mines before ultimately taking up a farming career. Fascinating stuff, to be sure.
By the time the plot did take off, however, not only was it in the last few episodes, but it was such a half-hearted attempt at anything resembling a story that you ended up wishing they hadn’t bothered. Whilst good finally rose up and defeated evil with a remarkable ease that made it plain they could have done so any time in the series, poor Juliet found out that her destiny was to save the world by turning into a tree. I truly and honestly wish I was joking, or that I could at least report that she avoided this fate, but alas, it was not to be. I know the minds at Gonzo have come up with laughably poor endings before, but this must take some sort of record.
As well as the titular Romeo and Juliet, the series is packed with supporting characters, both loosely based on those from the original play or just made up for the occasion. Don’t expect much in the way of development, however- most characters are as simplistic and one-dimensional as they come, with the writers’ idea of fleshing them out being to information dump a typical “mother died and father disappeared, so I became evil” back story on us. The only vaguely interesting character is Capulet cousin Tybalt, and even his appeal is largely because of his brooding good looks and black Pegasus.
If there’s one thing Gonzo are known for delivering (often to the detriment of all else), it’s visual quality- and RxJ is no exception. Neo Verona itself must truly be an example of architecture porn- beautifully rendered buildings and streets are packed into every corner, and even though more rural locations such as the Gradisca mines are necessarily less attractive, they are still technically very competent. Character designs are less extravagant but still well done for the most part, although as the series progresses there seem to be an increasing number of budget-saving episodes where everyone becomes simplistic and ugly. Background music is largely forgettable, whilst the OP (a Japanese version of “You Raise Me Up”) will only appeal to those with a penchant for overdramatic ballads.
I’m not sure whether an animated adaptation of Romeo and Juliet would ever have been taken seriously, but Gonzo seemed determined to ensure that even those who would have given it a chance could find little good to say about it. With its bland characters and lazy approach to plot development, there was certainly little incentive to do anything other than stare at the beautiful architecture of Neo Verona.