Thursday, July 24, 2008

Romeo x Juliet: or How to Butcher a Classic

Yeah so after a particularly grueling Prelim Exams Week, I had to relax. I had to force myself to relax. And what better way to do that than to go on an anime binge?

I picked up some pretty great titles, too: Perfect Blue, Paprika (re-watched it for like the nth time), Denno Coil (a masterpiece, truly), Mnemosyne (ultimately, it's all about teh sex but what an ending!) and Sword of the Stranger. So far, all of these titles paid off. I loved every minute of them. Then here comes Romeo x Juliet, supposedly a remake of the classic.


Romeo x Juliet Trailer
Romeo x Juliet OP Clip (Inori ~ You Raise Me Up by Lena Park)
Romeo x Juliet ED Clip (Cyclone)

Only to find my breath taken away by the utter crappiness of the story. To be really blunt, Romeo x Juliet butchers the classic tale of the tragic lovers and gives Shakespeare a bad name. Why, oh why did I even deign to pick up this title? It pissed me off after watching Episode 01. And when I gritted my teeth and continued to press on through Episode 24, hoping against hope that the brilliance of Gonzo might shine through yet, this despite the travesty that this title makes out of the classic Romeo and Juliet, it pissed me off some more.

We all know what the original is about:
Two families involved in a blood feud against each other and out of the "loins of these two houses, a pair of star-crossed lovers give up their lives."
What makes the original Romeo and Juliet a classic, aside from Shakespeare's superior use of language, is the internal conflict suffered by the characters as against the backdrop of their families' external conflict. It's about love-at-first-sight and infatuation and the exuberance of youth and ultimately about destiny, oft-cruel. As one of Shakespeare's most popular tragedies, the best part of Romeo and Juliet is the subtlety and originality of the characterization, the intensity of the emotions and the pace of the action, which compresses everything into just four frenetic days, and the powerful use of the story's thematic aspects.

What killed Romeo and Juliet? It was not love nor fate -- though each is potent and powerful when combined with action; it was the flaws in Romeo and Juliet's characters that spelled their end: Romeo succumbs too easily to his emotions and Juliet is unthinking with a child's selfishness. Yet, Romeo and Juliet is the archetypal love story that spells its own doom.
Oh yeah, sure, marry her now when there's no priest around and the marriage isn't legal

Apparently, this is too complex for an anime. And after all, who wants to watch a show where the protagonists are less than exemplary? So instead, Gonzo came up with these...ridiculous characters.

I guess my pet peeve about Romeo x Juliet is not that Gonzo took indiscriminate liberties with the Shakespeare classic (I shouldn't even say 'liberties' since the show is an almost complete departure from the original and I am well aware that Shakespeare himself adapted the story from some earlier work). As a matter of fact, I got interested in this title because it's an adaptation, and I know enough about adaptations to reasonably expect a few departures.

For one, I find the idea of an aerial kingdom titillating. For another, I thought it was rather fresh to give Juliet a bit more spunk by turning her into a masked vigilante (like an uninspired rendition of Zorro in red!).
this is about as exciting as it gets (and an example of a badly contrived scene)

But the magical trees and its psychotic gardener and stupid sooper seekrit plot to overthrow the kingdom (dude, it's not really a secret meeting if you're that loud about it) are all...way up there. Exactly, how are they significant to the story of our lovers? They are not significant at all. They're just there to give us a little breathing space from the suffocating angst-tastic, revolting loving looks that Romeo and Juliet exchange every moment they get and also to give us shiny extraneous semi-complicated stuff to ponder about to give this anime the appearance of depth.

Because depth is what this anime needs. Obviously, we can't expect that from the one-dimensional, single-minded, self-righteous, shallow characters of Romeo and Juliet. There were some episodes supposedly dedicated to the development of these two. But aside from more angst and moments fertile for mental expositions and heartfelt resolutions, this attempt at adding dimension to the characters merely resulted in the generation of more random characters that die just as randomly.

I can't figure out why they didn't just leave the introduction of more unnecessary characters and just worked on the richness of material that's right in front of them. They relegated the peace-maker Benvolio to side-character status. They butchered Mercutio, that brilliant sardonic character that Shakespeare almost wholly created, and replaced him with this brat with a sketchy character that does nothing but stand around and smirk. They turned the blustering Lord Montague into a power-hungry villain, which I think is a daring rendition but in the end the character does not deliver because the writers did not even bother to explain how or why he became that way. One-dimensional, much? They turned the roguish yet charming Tybalt into this...I can't even mention the word. And finally, they made Romeo and Juliet into a couple of idiots who get people around them die. Try hard as I might, I can't remember the original Romeo and Juliet being this stupid.

If you ask me, the only likable character in the story is Cielo and he's the horse.
the one good point of this show is the fantastic art, but it's not enough to save it from its own silliness and lack of intelligence

What really pissed me off about this show wasn't merely because Romeo x Juliet lacks depth but also because it lacks imagination. I mean, yes, it must take a fantastic imagination to create a world like Neo Verona, complete with flying horses and populated by immensely stupid people -- like why don't they revolt already?

And why, for the love of god, didn't the Capulets even attempt to rally the people to their side so they'd have a better fighting chance against the ruling Montagues? See what I mean? STUPID. And after their plot is discovered and they're being hunted down, what's the first thing they do? Return to their hideout. OMG! The stupidity of this show knows no bounds.

And while all of this ruckus is going on and random people around them keep dying or getting captured, Romeo and Juliet are busy angst-ing about their impossible love. Don't get me wrong. Angst is good. Angst was one of the themes of the original Romeo and Juliet. But to see it so blatantly dissected, taking away the very things that make their situation both delightful and heart-wrenching -- Romeo and Juliet love each other but they can't be together while Romeo x Juliet also love each other but are too stupid to figure out their own troubles....

In the end, the show took the focus away from the tragic lovers in order to give us a neatly, cut-up version of the classic. Why the fuck is everyone a martyr in this story? Where in the name of all that's holy did martyrdom figure in the original story?

As if to make up for the shortage in character depth and internal conflict, they offer us this false extraneous one about politics (that the storytellers just about give up on halfway through the series) and magical trees. I understand fantasy, but fantasy for fantasy's sake is so...blase.

Further, they follow that up with an ending that is a far cry from the original as it takes away the personal tragedy and injects pretty, crowd-pleasing justice into the act. Personally, I find it revolting.

This anime sucks candy. I don't recommend it. Of course, you are free to disagree with me.

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