Shoujo – Comedy, drama, gender bender, romance, supernatural
14 Volumes (complete)
Handsome and strong Ito is perfect for the role of Romeo… but she’s a girl! But Ito is happy to form a friendship with Makoto, the beautiful transfer student. However, Ito is shocked to discover Makoto is really a guy… and “she” is playing Juliet?! All the world’s a stage, but with a jealous schoolmate and a strict father, what will happen to the performance?
W Juliet was Emura’s first serialization, and it shows, but she still manages to put together a surprisingly fun story.
Like many manga series, W Juliet originated from a oneshot. The author then penned a sequel, then a couple more chapters, and then she finds herself in a long-running series. As such, there are surely some choices Emura would have made differently if W Juliet had been planned for multiple volumes from the start. Heck, one of the original chapters — the third I believe — was actually moved to being an extra in a later volume (the sixth?). That should give you an idea of how Emura was flying by the seat of her pants in the early volumes.
But perhaps one of the better things to emerge from the original stand-alone story is the fact Ito and Makoto become committed to each other right away. While most couples take volumes (if not whole series) to get together, the two main characters fall in love during the opening chapter and spend the rest of the series working toward both a professional and personal future together. It’s nice to not see a lot of waffling on whether they should be together, if they do love each other, and the usual romantic conflicts. Misunderstandings occur, but those aren’t the central part of the story.
Of course, Emura turns to a lot of the shoujo story classics, particularly in the early volumes: a fiancee, other romantic rivals, misunderstandings, etc. But the fact that Ito and Makoto constantly affirm they’re an unofficial official couple* leaves readers with a more pleasant feeling after each chapter — a fact which pairs perfect with the heavy comedy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a light, fluffy series (more on that in a bit), but it isn’t an emotionally draining or overly annoying one.
*I say “unofficial official couple” because of the whole central conflict of the story. Makoto wants to be an actor, not inherit his father’s dojo. So if he pretends to be a girl for the remaining two years of high school, he will be free to pursue whatever career he wants. Ito, of course, finds out right away but agrees to keep the secret. So they deal with various close calls, family conflict, and general gender-bender and/or romcom antics as they head toward graduation.
Again, unless you’re a brand-new shoujo fan, many of the storylines will be familiar to you. There’s the girl who keeps treating Ito like her prince, the siscon, and several supporting characters get paired up. The ones that aren’t often border on the ridiculous. I mean, Makoto gets away with wearing a swimsuit! The drama club takes down people with guns! At times, the series even dips into supernatural territory with chapters involving time travel and an undersea palace. These are the weakest part of W Juliet in my opinion. Although it is pretty ridiculous that Makoto manages to keep playing a girl even during overnight trips, there’s a difference between relative realism and outright fantasy.
Otherwise, most of W Juliet is a blend of cute and funny. Ito and Makoto sneak out on dates that always go awry, various men/women express try interesting (borderline illegal) ways to capture their romantic interest, and the club tackles challenges from their club advisor, audience, and rival clubs. Whether running away from friends at a New Year’s temple visit or a mad dash to get back to the auditorium after being locked out, the manga keeps moving from crisis to crisis — some dire in terms of reaching their dreams, some less so. Various side characters drop in and out, and some side stories have unsatisfying or sudden conclusions.
But it’s hard to hate a series where both the hero and the heroine can send almost anyone flying and embrace each other almost every chapter. However, Makoto runs into an issue where he can do almost anything well. This makes sense considering his father raised him as the important heir to take over the dojo, but he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. I do like how he doesn’t hate dressing as a woman; he doesn’t like doing it, that’s for sure, but it’s nice to see a male lead confident in who he is and who he wants to be.
Gender issues are brought up outside of Makoto’s cross-dressing. Ito and Makoto do get teased a few times about being lesbians, but there’s at least two other characters who may be bi or gay. One even is a real cross dresser — or even someone with gender dysphoria. A parent is upset in the latter case, and the objects of these LGBT characters don’t want their attention. However, in the latter case, Ito/Makoto just don’t want anyone else’s affection. They’ve already found their destined partner, and they react the exact same way if a straight person says they like them. In addition, Ito’s frustration at being treated like a girl is a recurring theme of the series. In the end, although she chooses to be more feminine, it’s her choice, not something she has to do, and it’s no big deal if she still has traditionally boyish traits.
Speaking of outward beauty and gender, the two leads are remarkably more feminine (Makoto) and masculine (Ito) in the opening volumes than they are at the end. Teenagers do keep growing at age 16-18, but this is a blend of Emura’s art maturing and artistic license. Overall, if you’ve read Hana to Yume romances manga before (Fruits Basket, Gakuen Alice, S.A – Special A), the overall atmosphere should be pretty familiar to you. It’s soft, romantic, and features regular doses of humorous moments. Family members tend to feature very similar faces, so there are some strong genes running in the Miura and Narita blood. Makoto is given quite a wardrobe from his older sisters, and even Ito has some style in her closet despite her previously boyish wardrobe. Unfortunately, despite meeting in a group that performs plays, the play costumes are not that exciting or interesting. That’s in part because they perform Romeo and Juliet and other classics quite often over the two years or so, and I wish we could have seen the group do a wider range of productions. The manga doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on the work that goes into a theater production, but still, they could have done more than a un-gender swapped version of Swan Lake.
Honorifics are mostly used. Some Japanese terms are included like “Nee-san” or “Omuko-san”, although some of latter was unnecessary. The series passed through a few different hands, and the manga publishers were still experimenting with how much Japanese to use in adaptations. The manga can be inconsistent in how ways to address people are handled (names vs big brother/sister vs nii/nee-san). Translation notes are generally included. There are a few mistakes like one time using “troop” instead of “troupe” and the wrong person being addressed. Macrons are typically used in names but are sometimes dropped in different volumes (depending on who was working on it). So in this way, with the inconsistencies, the adaptation is a little dated, as most manga nowadays are handled by the same person(s).
W Juliet is a older work with some weaknesses (mostly due to the author’s inexperience), but if you don’t mind episodic romances, think of W Juliet as a crossover between Hana-Kimi and early Ouran High School Host Club. It features the romance and the secrecy of the former and the comedic randomness of the latter, so if you liked both, W Juliet may hit that same sweet spot for you.
This series has a sequel, and most of Emura’s works take place in the same universe. However, none of these have been licensed in English.