Okay before you look at this anime's title and roll your eyes with "been there, done that" theatrics, allow me to immediately put your mind at ease: This is not simply an animated version of the classic Shakespeare play. Instead what we have is a uniquely animated drama based loosely on the classic source material from anime masters, Gonzo.
Released for the first time ever on DVD, Romeo x Juliet from Funimation breaks the 24 total episodes into a pair of two-disc sets. The first of which (reviewed here) is known as The Romeo Collection and contains episodes 1-12. Packaged within an appropriately artistically decorated cardboard exterior slipcase is a pair of thin disc cases each containing a single dvd (with 6 episodes on each).
Total runtime comes in at 290 minutes and the show wears a conservative TV PG (13+) rating, based presumably more on the grander adult oriented themes (we do all know how this tale will end) than it is language, sexual scenarios, or gore.
Language options are standard fair sub & dub meaning the original Japanese dialog track is presented (in stereo) as well as the option of instead watching an English dub (in Dolby Surround 5.1). Finally English subtitles are available with either vocal option.
To paraphrase the opening set-up: The story takes place once upon a time, in the sky continent known as New Verona where the all-powerful ability to hover in the distant sky breathes life and prosperity upon the people. However, foolish passions will someday transcend eternity. Now let me introduce to you the tragic story of innocent pure love tormented by fate in the midst of chaos, Romeo and Juliet.
In the event that this doesn't help you understand the story better, imagine a blend of European 1600s culture with some mythological elements peppered about for greater intrigue. The main source of transportation on New Verona happens to be winged horses and let us not forget that this continent is in fact floating high in the sky.
Just like with the play, Gonzo structured the classic Montague versus Capulet struggle as the immediate and driving force of the prose. However the show does take some interesting liberties fairly early on in the form of young Juliet donning a wig and mask to pose as a male superhero who delivers justice in a severely corrupted and hierarchal society.
The star-crossed lover angle between the lead characters takes little time in starting but develops quite slowly; oftentimes painfully so. There is little doubt that this show could have succeeded as a 12 or more-standard 13-episode show but was pushed to 24 due to Japanese broadcast television specifics. As such, expect some story threads to fizzle out and others to drag on needlessly.
In the spans where things are progressing smoothly, the lead characters and their motivations are quite well done (save perhaps for the few times a wig can completely baffle everyone to the fact that Juliet is a female; especially when Romeo and his winged horse encounter the "male" version).
Visuals are definitely high budget Gonzo territory and this fact is clear nearly immediately. The character cells maintain a sort of washed out appearance that adds to the feel of antiquity to the equation while the backgrounds are lavish and rich with impressive lighting effects throughout.
Sound work is solid with a dub that succeeds on some levels but fails at others. A very deliberate approach was taken early on by the voice talents to eliminate the old-English speaking style of the original work but then often (and out of nowhere) a character will slip into a bit of cliché old style of speaking only to nearly as quickly recover. The Japanese audio avoids these pitfalls entirely but comes off as lackluster in some of the key critical moments. Choose your poison, as it were.
Music score is very appropriate with nice fluctuations at the tense moments and subtle inflections when things get delicate. In all I came into the show with hopes of Gonzo having duplicated the effort that made Gankutsuou work compared to Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo. Unfortunately, it appears as though the problem with Romeo x Juliet is that the source material on which it is based was simply too ambitious from the onset. In effort to make a modernized tale of the Shakespeare play feasible, blown tender moments and miscued romantic scenarios were perhaps inevitable. Still, you have to give Gonzo credit for even attempting such a feat. In the end it comes off more as a minor derailment than a total train wreck. However, suburb visuals, smooth music work, and deliberate pacing may make this one worth looking into regardless of how it compares to the source material.