I am starting this series, because sometimes I watch television shows. And sometimes I have snarky commentary to impart, and since my previous snark partner moved away to pursue her education on the east coast (she’s a traitor, I love her), I’ve decided to share my feelings with you guys. All like, two of you.
This is a wee baby blog after all.
So why am I recapping this anime series from 2007? Because the DVD was on sale at HMV, and I’ve secretly wanted to watch this thing since I saw the trailer in high school because I’m secretly a big weeb and Shakespeare nerd and now’s my chance, so there.
So we begin in “the distant past” on the floating continent of “Neo Verona”, which is how you know this is going to be an accurate adaptation. There’s some exposition text about star-crossed lovers and two households both alike in dignity, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, and we open on this lovely image:
^ So this is going to be a comedy, I see.
It turns out Lord Montague has just finished killing the Prince of Neo Verona’s entire household. But soft! Little Juliet and her companion Cordelia are just shuffling down the hallway, as kids are wont to do in the middle of the night, and hear the commotion. Before Montague can have them killed, however, they’re saved by one of the few remaining Capulet guards and spirited away on a… pegasus? It’s definitely some kind of winged horse-looking thing.
So it appears that the Montagues, or at least Lord Montague, is unequivocally evil in this version. Way to kill the entire thematic point of the original in the first two minutes, guys!
And then we have the opening credits, complete with a lovely japanese rendition of “You Raise Me Up”. It’s honestly an earworm, and if I have to hear this song in my head for the rest of the day, so do you.
We open again 14 years later, and the blue banners of House Montague are all over the city. I guess being unstable enough to kill your previous ruler just makes people want you to be in charge then. Brilliant!
A young woman is being held in the town square, protesting that she’s not “the Capulet girl” that they’re looking for. The crowd is obviously displeased with this, and the guards are about to attack the populace when suddenly:
A wild protagonist has appeared!
This absolute badass is known as the Red Whirlwind, protector of the people and lover of asskicking. In a bit of gorgeous animation, the vigilante frees the young woman, beats up the guards and promptly escapes as the crowd cheers. A kid joins along for the ride, but not before pelting the pursuing guards with some kind of petard (yes I will make every Shakespeare reference I can think of, it’s not like this show isn’t doing it either.)
The Red Whirlwind and the kid split up in an attempt to lose the guards, and who should our new protagonist stumble upon but a now grown-up Cordelia! She’s drawn into the pursuit, clearly miffed at being pulled from her shopping – and this isn’t the first time either, it seems. Hey, Red Whirlwind? Why did you have to grab Cordelia and mark her as an associate of yours in public? You realize you’re actually endangering her more than if you had just run past and ignored her, right?
There’s more running, and a young nobleman spots the group from his terrace. “They’re being chased!” he tells his friend, because it seems criminals don’t usually get arrested for their crimes in this city. His friend dismisses it as a commoner’s quarrel, but brave Romeo (because of course it’s Romeo) dashes to his pegasus to rescue these poor outlaws! No seriously, he has no reason to think the guards aren’t perfectly justified in chasing these two at this point. There isn’t even any indication that he recognizes the Red Whirlwind and might be sympathetic to the cause, it’s just… let’s randomly obstruct justice! What’s class privilege again?
Benvolio seems only mildly put out by his friend dumping him to go rescue some commoners, so this must happen pretty often. I feel like he and Cordelia could get along.
Meanwhile, the Red Whirlwind and Cordelia have managed to get themselves trapped on a high ledge. Before they can do much to get out of this situation, the ledge collapses and the Red Whirlwind falls. Hark! Who will save our hapless vigilante?
Hello. I’ll be your lovable but oblivious love interest for the duration of this show.
The two have a bit of a moment as their eyes lock together, and then Romeo ruins it by commenting on the Red Whirlwind’s delicate wrists. Of course this leads to a “let me go!”/”I don’t think that’s a good idea right now” quip as the two fly several hundred feet from the ground.
Benvolio appears to have followed his friend after all, because he gallantly offers Cordelia a ride on his dragonsteed (that’s what the pegasi are called, apparently), right before the guards burst onto the ledge themselves.
Our heroes fly away, and the Red Whirlwind seems none too pleased about being saved by a total stranger, and a nobleman to boot. Romeo asks for some gratitude for saving their lives, but the Red Whirlwind seems unwilling to give any; after all, where was he when that young woman was being threatened in the town square? Still, Romeo receives a muttered and grumpy “thank you” as the Red Whirlwind and Cordelia leave. “How rude!” he comments, completely ignoring the point about class inequality, before flying away.
It turns out the Red Whirlwind’s name is Odin, and he and Cordelia are joined by the kid from earlier before making their way back home. The kid thinks it’s really cool that Odin and Cordelia were saved by noblemen on dragonsteeds, but Odin couldn’t care less.
“Home”, it turns out, is a theatre currently playing a rendition of “Otello”. Except they’re apparently showing the Verdi version, because I don’t remember there being opera singing in the original text. Attendance appears to be lacking, and the playwright laments that nobody understands the genius of his work. Author stand-in, is that you?
Yes, it turns out: the playwright is none other than “William”, the owner of the theatre and the voice of wall-breaking humour in this show. After a few quips about how his plays are “overwritten and difficult to follow,” Will ropes Odin and the kid, whose name is Antonio, to help with tonight’s rehearsal.
In the house proper, Odin is met by the reprimanding glare of the Capulet guard from earlier, who turns out to be Antonio’s grandafther. Antonio distracts the old man while Odin runs into his room to avoid further chastising for his antics as the Red Whirlwind. Cordelia is there to help him change out of the Red Whirlwing costume, and mentions how lucky they were that Romeo intervened to save them. Odin stares forlonly at his wrist. “To hell with him,” he says, then runs off, away from his feelings.
And then we find out that, gasp! Odin is actually Juliet in disguise! I totally didn’t see this coming!
Very obvious. Much sarcasm.
Juliet apparently doesn’t know she’s a Capulet, as she was too young to remember the night when her family was killed. Everyone thought keeping this information from her until her sixteenth birthday was the best thing to do, because keeping the truth about the main character’s past from them obviously works out so well all the time! At least her sixteenth birthday is tomorrow, so we won’t have to wait too long for the payoff to that setup.
Elsewhere, the Lord Montague is drinking wine and complaining about his son to a slimy-looking Mercutio. And then Romeo arrives. Awkward! It seems that Romeo has gotten this silly idea that in order to be a good prince he should get to know the people he’s going to be governing. Uh-whaaaaat? Montague is determined to get this notion out of his head. All that matters is power, duh. Pooooowwwweeeeeeerrrr…..
It turns out that the Montagues are hosting a ball that night, and Montague wants Romeo to attend with a certain young lady. Her name is Hermione, and while Romeo is adorably befuddled around her he can’t help but think of the Red Whirlwind when he takes her hand. Could this be….?
Speaking of which, William is currently struggling to write a play about star-crossed lovers, and his actors aren’t really providing any inspiration. Is this going to come back later as some kind of thematic tie-in? Probably.
Romeo and Benvolio are getting ready for the ball, when Benvolio notices Romeo looking rather sad. When he asks if it’s because he doesn’t like Hermione, Romeo looks off into the middle distance and says “No, it’s not that…”
“Well that had no hint of ambiguity,” says Benvolio, echoing my thoughts. It turns out that the problem is simply that Romeo doesn’t love Hermione, which he thinks he should because his dad is obviously trying to set them up.
At the theatre, Odin wants to know what falling madly in love would feel like. William, ever the dramaturge, replies that falling in love is “finding something worth risking your life for.” We’re really not setting this up for a tragedy, are we…
At the ball, Romeo is having similar questions. Benvolio’s answer? “Love is finding the one you wish to die with.” I mean, what is dramatic irony?
One of the actresses at the theatre has been invited to the Montague ball by one of her patrons, and ropes Odin into helping her get ready. “Helping her get ready” apparently also means “accompanying her to the ball”, since she doesn’t want to be lonely, but her patron might get jealous if she shows up with a boy so she came up with the perfect solution: get Odin into a dress! She doesn’t seem to realize that Odin is actually a girl, so I’m guessing it’s a pretty well-guarded secret. Odin isn’t thrilled about this, but reluctantly agrees.
And loves it! Since she’s never been told why she’s had to pretend to be a boy all these years, Juliet is more than a little struck by her reflection and decides that, if only for one night, she’ll just enjoy being a girl. It’s a nice little character moment, and you feel guenuinely happy for her as she twirls around the room.
Then the actress’s patron bursts into the room, and since he never opens his eyes (seriously, he never does), grabs the first girl he can get his hands on and zooms off to the ball. The poor actress is left behind to mend her broken heart and run after the carriage, and Juliet is left… extremely uncomfortable.
Stranger danger. STRANGER DANGER.
Once at the ball she manages to ditch her escort pretty quickly, but is struck by sudden flashbacks and the certainty that she’s been in the palace before. Overwhelmed, she runs into the garden and collapses. “Are you alright?” asks a voice. You guessed it! It’s Romeo!
The music swells as the two stare at each other, and we end on this lovely shot.
Which is promptly ruined by the ending song. Seriously, who thought an angry guitar riff was the proper way to end this episode?
Hark! ‘Tis the plot:
- Before getting killed off, Prince Capulet asks Montague if he’s willing to defy the will of “Escalus”. Now, in the original play, Escalus is the name of the Prince of Verona, but since in this universe the Capulets ruled the city, I think it’s fair to guess that Escalus will be some kind of higher power (maybe magical in nature? There are flying horses in this).
- We’re looking at a bit of a role-reversal in this adaptation, since we have the Montagues throwing the ball instead of the Capulets, and Juliet sneaking in unnoticed instead of Romeo. Plus, if things keep going forward with Hermione, Romeo is going to be the one stuck with the unwanted betrothal.
- I think it’s safe to say that this is going to be Romeo and Juliet pretty much in name only from now on. I mean -civil unrest, dead families, vigilantes, floating continents?
- Lord Montague’s name is Laertes in this version. If he has a dead sister and jumps into a grave at some point, I will be vindicated.
- I snark about the romance quite a bit, but so far I actually really enjoy it? I mean, yes, it’s corny as all get-out, but at least the show trusts the visuals and music to get the point across rather than endless speeches about love and destiny. All you needed was a shot of Juliet’s wrist at the right moment and we got it. It was great.
- The animation is gorgeous in this first episode. I know quality usually takes a dip after the premiere, but if they keep this up I will be very pleased.
- It took me a while to notice, but whoever’s doing Juliet’s voice dips about an octave or so when she’s masquerading as Odin, even when “Odin” is wearing a dress. It’s a nice detail.