‘To LOVE, or not to LOVE’
‘In fair Verona where we set our scene…’ Er, no. It’s prestigious Dahlia Academy which educates only the elite students from the Nation of Touwa to the East and the Principality of the West. Meet Romio Inuzuka, the first-year leader of the Black Dog Dorm (Touwa) whose members are constantly feuding with the members of the White Cats’ House (the West) led by Juliet Persia (also a first year). Romio’s problem? He’s fallen in love with his rival and sworn enemy, Juliet. How can he keep up the pretence of hating her (and the rest of her House) when every time he sees her, he blushes, his heart thuds like crazy – and then, if anyone else shows up he has to pretend to fight her.
Oh, Japan! Messing with our English classic texts again! I was never a huge fan of the SF in GONZO’s anime series Romeo x Juliet – so a light-hearted romcom reworking is much more appealing.
Attractive (but not especially original) character designs, come from the pen of mangaka Yousuke Kaneda. Kaneda is also good at comically portraying the excruciating range of emotions the smitten hero Romio Inazuka experiences as he tries to hide his all-consuming love for Juliet with predictably disastrous results. A nice touch, also, that when the two get the chance to meet without all their hangers-on (and without fighting each other) Juliet admits that she too likes Romio. So no ‘do-they, don’t they?’ – rather more of a ‘how on earth can they?’ given all the impediments placed in their way. And although Juliet’s character design (like all the girls in this manga) is on the distinctly moe side of moe, kudos goes to Yousuke Kaneda for giving her a strong personality and also something of a Haruhi (Ouran) vibe when she decides to disguise herself as a younger Black Dog boy, ‘Julio’, so that she and Romio can hang out together on the quarterly academy day trip to nearby Dahlia Town.
The two houses here are not just two competing boarding school dorms but contain (the manga asks us to believe) the elite sons and daughters of the nation of Touwa (Japan) and the West (where everyone is, it seems, Roman Catholic and has fair hair and blue eyes). Enjoying this light-hearted romp means ignoring such lazy stereotypes (last season’s romcom Tada Never Falls in Love also features a romance between a Japanese boy and a European girl). The East v. West stereotypes adopted here are also clumsy: Julio/Juliet doesn’t know how to use chopsticks, Romio gives Juliet a crucifix after hearing that it’s a thing Western couples do. Or as Julia (un)helpfully later explains, “In [the] West we put our daily prayers into our rosaries…and give them to those precious to us, as a protective charm. That’s why lovers exchange their rosaries.” Oh, so that’s why… (Perhaps Kaneda-sensei and/or his editor thought that as the original Shakespeare is set in Italy and Italy is a Roman Catholic country, then…)
Boarding School Juliet is all about the cute so far and makes a fun and sometimes excruciating read ( poor Romio!). My story sense detects a harem set-up with Juliet joined so far by Hasuki, Romio’s faithful Black Dog sidekick and Princess Char of the White Cats (if you visit Kaneda-sensei’s Twitter, you’ll see what I mean). Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s just one of those romcom manga in which the unfortunate hero undergoes an increasingly humiliating series of mishaps in his quest to have a meaningful relationship with the girl of his dreams.
It’s worth mentioning that this series is selling really well in Japan (the most recent volume made it into the top 10 manga sales – no mean feat, when it was competing alongside bestseller stalwarts like One Piece).
If you enjoy this first volume, you can read ahead as Kodansha have also been issuing the series in digital form. The translation is by Amanda Haley and flows nicely although there are none of the usual (and helpful) Translation Notes we’ve come to expect from Kodansha. Included at the end are four pages of Early Design Work (I’m guessing for the anime). And you can currently watch the anime streaming on Amazon Prime.
Read the first pages at the publisher’s site for free here