What’s it about? There’s an ongoing feud at the prestigious Dahlia Academy between the “White Cat” West Dormitory, led by Juliet Persia, and the “Black Doggies” Touwa Dormitory, led by Romio Inuzuka. As powerful fighters, the two leaders have been rivals since childhood. But Romio has a secret: He’s actually been in love with Juliet the entire time!
CONTENT WARNING for sexual assault and fanservice.
Please keep your arms and legs inside the review at all times, ’cause Boarding School Juliet is about to take you on a roller coaster ride.
There’s so much to like about this premise, as much of the focus is on Juliet Persia, a proud, determined young woman born into a noble family where only men are allowed to inherit titles. As the sole heir to her family, she’s decided to become “strong enough to change the world.” She’s powerful in battle, disciplined outside of it, and absolutely unwilling to bend to anyone or ask for help. She gives everything she’s got in all she does and asks the same of everyone around her.
In short: Juliet is great. Have I conveyed how great Juliet is? Because seriously. Love.
Much of this is filtered through the lens of our protagonist, Romio Inuzuka, who has an obnoxious faux-chivalric sexist streak when the episode begins. He hides his feelings behind lines like “I can’t go all-out against a girl” while also being determined to secretly “protect” Juliet from the other boys at school. Juliet despises him for this because she sees him as her “rival” and feels like he’s looking down on her.
Thankfully, this dynamic only lasts for about 15 minutes. When Juliet confronts Romio near the end of the episode and explains herself to him, he quickly realizes he’s never considered her feelings and that he’s actually been hurting her by trying to protect her. He then approaches her with the same straightforwardness she does him, confessing his love and promising to “change the world” right alongside her.
Unsure how she feels about him but moved by his promise, Juliet agrees to go out with him—but secretly, since their dorms are still fierce rivals. The two thus begin what is sure to be a shenanigans-filled undercover relationship.
All of which makes for a pretty fun setup! Let’s go, Cool Lady and Supportive Boyfriend! Smash some patriarchies with your love and also your swords!
You can feel it coming though, can’t you? That massive, looming “But”? ‘Cause here it is.
Boarding School Juliet spends its middle act having a trio of Black Doggy Dorm Boys use dirty tactics to capture and then sexually assault Juliet. Romio flies out of nowhere to rescue her, giving him the opportunity to see both her bra and her vulnerable, crying face. She’s drawn in Full Moe Fetishization Mode, complete with a glossy filter, flushed cheeks, and big, dripping tears. Someone on staff really enjoys seeing our tough female lead traumatized.
There’s also the matter of the focus on Juliet’s skirt during this same fight scene (and one brief flash of underwear from a distance); the sexualized framing used on Hasuki when she flirts with Romio but not on Scott when he does the same with Juliet; and the buff, masc-coded character wearing a dress in the opening theme who I somehow doubt will be treated with respect.
But really, all of those are just minor annoyances compared to how the camera keeps trying to frame Juliet as “secretly cute and vulnerable,” especially given the way the overarching narrative has established her as a revolutionary, overtly feminist figure.
A cynical reading of this scene might go something like: “this premiere pays a lot of lip service to Juliet’s strength, but the narrative is more interested in tearing her down, turning her into a stereotypical cute-girl and proving that she really does need a man to protect her.”
A more charitable reading would be along the lines of: “this premiere is trying to tell the story of a character who thinks true strength means doing everything on your own, but she needs to learn that it also takes strength to trust others and be honest about your own vulnerabilities—but boy howdy, did it do a piss-poor job of conveying that.”
I’m a big fan of “true strength is being able to ask for help” stories, by the way. They challenge a lot of assumptions about masculine-coded strength, often in really positive ways. But, because they do deal with masculine-coded ideals, they’re easiest to tell with male characters. They become more difficult with female characters, and even more difficult when a story is directly dealing with sexist assumptions about women being “weaker” than men.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that it requires a lot of thought and care in terms of how the story frames the lesson, so that it doesn’t come across as Girl Learns What She Really Needs Is a Big Strong Man to Save Her. There are ways to do it, but sexually assaulting your protagonist so she can cry in front of the male lead? Yeah. That is not one of them. Even if I assume good intentions, that’s awful, lazy writing.
And yet, for all that, I can’t say I disliked this premiere. The direction is energetic and the fight scenes look nice. The series has a good sense of humor that sometimes genuinely, cleverly skewers gender norms (Romio’s idea of a “manly confession” was particularly inspired). I adore Juliet, I warmed up to Romio after his epiphany, and I have a certain fondness for “unrequited crushes who are super open about said crushes,” so naturally I found both Hasuki and Scott pretty endearing.
If the narrative would just let Juliet do her thing without feeling the need to sexualize and/or shame her along the way, this could be a fun school battle rom-com with a feminist-friendly undercurrent. But, based on the preview, the next episode looks to feature Romio accidentally seeing Juliet in her bra and her being upset about it. Again. In other words, Boarding School Juliet is almost certainly going to end up a disappointment.
…I’m still gonna give it another episode, though.