by Emura; adaptation by William Flanagan
published by Viz; $9.99 US
A high-school romance involving a cross-dresser, W Juliet combines two popular shôjo conventions into a generic tale.
Ito is a tomboy who’s often asked to play male roles for the school’s drama club. Makato is a new transfer student, tall and lovely. Although dressing as a girl, he’s male. He wants to be an actor, but his father wants his only son to inherit the family business. After months of conflict, they struck a deal: if Makato can complete school as a girl, then he can follow his own path.
Makato takes the drama club by storm. Of course she’s a great actress; her whole life is a role. Ito is the only one that knows the secret, which serves to bind the two together in a relationship based on more than just attraction. Ito is playing Romeo and Makato Juliet in the school play, adding another level of interaction in a plot twist common to teen dramas.
Stories revolve around situations with a risk of revealing the secret, such as having to appear in a swimsuit competition or risking a camera-crazy student catching pictures of Makato’s true form. The plots are familiar and sitcom-like, including the presence of a jealous rival who thinks that Makato is really a boy but can never quite prove it.
Manga readers will also recognize typical story elements, such as the appearance of a fiancee promised in childhood or the way a variety of characters have martial arts skills or the conflict provided by going against family expectations. Described that way, this book sounds similar to Ranma 1/2, but Ranma has more slapstick humor. W Juliet is romantic comedy, only not that funny.
Like the stories, the art is also generic, focusing on young, open faces distinguished by hairstyle. The panel flow can be confusing; the newer reader might find herself reading dialogue in the wrong order. Settings aren’t always fully established, making it doubly hard to follow the events of a scene at times. The author’s notes provide possible reasons, painting the picture of a young creator learning as she goes.
Reading the art shows two girls falling in love with each other, but it’s still conventionally ok, because the reader knows that one’s really a boy. The premise of W Juliet has potential, but the execution is predictable, the characters aren’t particularly memorable (essential for a successful shôjo series), and it lacks the necessary spark that makes a romance series special.