Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: William Shakespeare, Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy
Category: Comic/Manga Drama Adaptation
Publisher/Date: UDON Entertainment/15 May 2018
Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, suicide, physical violence, murder, and tumultuous family relationships.
I’ve always been fascinated by Shakespeare — a Shakespeare class that I took during my very first term of college was what sold me on being an English major. What I remember most about Shakespeare, though, is reading Romeo and Juliet during English class back in high school. I didn’t have a ton of problems reading it myself (though I was pretty reliant on the glossary at the bottoms of the pages of the book we used), but almost the entire rest of my class had a ton of trouble following along — to the point where they would ask me to “translate it into English” so that they could figure out what was going on. Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly the best Shakespeare experience for them OR for me.
This is the kind of text I wish that my classmates would have had in high school instead of the straight text of the play. Shakespeare’s plays weren’t really made to be read straight; they were made to be performed, and comics is a wonderful format for this because it combines reading the play with watching the drama unfold. What was even more delightful for me was the fact that the text itself is virtually untouched; every one of Shakespeare’s original lines is given space inside a word balloon, and it’s not at all abridged. Readers of this adaptation are getting Shakespeare’s original work in its entirety, but they’re getting it in a way that is dynamic and fun and, for many younger readers in particular, easier to digest.
The only thing that I found off-putting about this book relates to the illustrations. The art itself is lovely and rich and a pleasure to look at; what bothers me, though, is how the characters are drawn. The majority of the characters look like your “typical” manga-style characters, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the characters are virtually all white Italian people (as the adaptation kept the play’s original location of Verona, Italy) and manga facial characteristics are actually depicting Japanese facial features. There’s a lot of confusion that goes around about how manga characters in all manga “look white” even though the style is designed to depict Japanese characters, and white manga characters have a very different look to them. I worry that because the characters in this book are drawn as Japanese manga characters rather than as white characters, it’s going to continue to spread the idea that manga characters are white when they really aren’t. I feel like this is something that should have been taken into account more.
On the other side of things, the team who worked on this adaptation really did their research — they took a trip to Verona to look at the architecture and really understand the history of the place and to find the most accurate backdrops for the illustrations they could find. They put a lot of work into ensuring that the details in the book were accurate, and I really appreciated that.
Overall, this was a really good adaptation of this play, despite the issues I have with depictions of race. If you love Romeo and Juliet, or want to read the play but have trouble following Shakespeare’s text alone, this is a really nice way of experiencing the story.
Final rating: 4 of 5 stars