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The Anime Staff and Creator of Requiem of the Rose King

by Rebecca Silverman,

Inspired by Shakespeare plays, Requiem of the Rose King tells an intriguing story about the tortured life of Richard III. In Aya Kanno's inventive telling, Richard struggles with his love and gender within the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses. ANN spoke to manga creator Kanno, director Kentarō Suzuki, and series composition writer Hiroki Uchida to learn more about the series' unique setting and how it was adapted to screen.

©Aya Kanno (AKITASHOTEN)/Requiem of the Rose King Film Partners

ANN: While most of Requiem of the Rose King follows the action of Shakespeare's Henry VI Part Three and Richard III, you incorporate a character from Henry VI Part One as well, Joan of Arc. What made you decide to use Joan's ghost in your version of the story?

AYA KANNO: It's related to her final lines in Henry VI Part One where she curses the Plantagenet line. It is also a statement about how the medieval world saw gender as strictly binary. Joan's actions and Richard's body both embody male and female characteristics. The idea for androgynous comes from Plato's usage of “andrognos”, which refers to mythical beings that possess both a male and female half.

ANN: Did you have any expectations and concerns about the story being adapted into anime form?

KANNO: I was hoping that the parts some readers said were difficult to understand would be made clearer in the anime. Although I think these are good points about the manga, it does have a complex story, abstract dialogue, and drawings with a lot of details in them.

I worried about whether the multiple main themes of this manga (Shakespeare, history, gender issues, etc.) would all be understood and depicted with the right balance.

There were also the visual elements to consider. While animation has its own limitations, I was able to provide an acceptable degree of input.

ANN: How did you decide to incorporate Jane Shore into the story?

KANNO: Among the female characters in Shakespeare's work, she possesses elements that don't appear elsewhere: she is a peasant who possesses a certain degree of modern ideas. I felt that I needed a woman like her in the story. Due to the length constraints of the anime, there was a suggestion to cut Jane's appearances, but I asked for her to remain because she is an important character.

ANN: If you were to create another manga based on Shakespeare, is there a particular play (or plays) that you'd be interested in working with? Why?

KANNO: If I had an unlimited life span I'd love to draw everything. If I had to pick just one thing, however, it would be The Tragedy of Coriolanus. It was what got me interested in Shakespeare's plays.

ANN: When you set out to work on the anime adaptation of the Kanno-sensei's manga, were you conscious of any elements of the Shakespeare plays which was the original idea of the manga?

KENTARO SUZUKI: Not particularly, although I did take note of what kind of people those historical figures were like in reality. Theater and anime don't have much compatibility, so I set out to avoid the stage versions of Shakespeare. As a general rule, anime is purely artificial, so making a play through anime would be rather… unconvincing (an artificial thing would get an extra layer of artifice), so I only used the most necessary lines for the most necessary situations.

ANN: The series is an emotionally-heavy anime instead of an action-heavy anime. What did you keep in mind through directing the anime?

SUZUKI: I have heard that plays put more emphasis on actions over the lines, but if I were to make the characters in the anime move while spouting Shakespeare lines, it would feel like a play, and I didn't want to break the immersion which makes the characters look realistic. Instead of movements, I assembled the scenes with colors in a way that could bring out the emotions. The stronger the movements, the more unintentionally comedic it would feel, so I figured that in order to bring out a heavy atmosphere, it was unnecessary to use excessive movement… Comedy is not what everyone wants from this anime, right?

ANN: The use of light, dark, and color in the series is very interesting. Can you tell us about your thought process in making Joan of Arc appear in a psychedelic scheme and the use of roses to fill in character outlines, such as Margaret in episode three, and the juxtaposition of Henry's almost angelic aura against the black of Richard's look?

SUZUKI: Regarding the placement of colors, I was going for Europe rather than Asia. Asian people can distinguish the layers of the light, but on the flip side, they can't distinguish the layers of the darkness. I heard that Europeans can distinguish at low levels of light, so I consciously made the screen tone dark.

Generally speaking, I made the screen dark, and then added light to complete the screen composition. The footage has more darkness overall, so when adding the colors, the garish ones can stand out quite a lot. It's similar to an oil painting.

ANN: What specific challenges were there in adapting a work that is in itself an adaptation of Shakespeare's plays? Did you read the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III? If so, how did that influence your writing?

HIROKI UCHIDA: Shakespeare's plays are famous in Japan, but there aren't many people who know what happens in them. I suspect in particular that there might even be young people who don't know the name of Shakespeare. With all this in mind, his work might be an important theme to the manga, but because people who don't know the manga may watch the anime, we tried to adapt it in a way that anyone can get into the story without any cultural education (while maintaining the Shakespeare essence).

There's no doubt that this is an interesting series even to people who are unfamiliar with the playwright, so I hope that through the anime you can get interested in the manga and Shakespeare as well.

I have, of course, read both Henry VI and Richard III. Thanks to my Shakespeare knowledge, I can understand the manga's depths, but the question was how far I should apply this knowledge, considering that the average Japanese consumer does not share it… it was a dilemma.

ANN: How did you determine how to pace the events of the story based on the different needs of anime and manga? For example, the first episode covered a lot of manga ground, but subsequent episodes have slowed down. Was it simply a case of getting to a specific point in the story or was there something else to it?

UCHIDA: Right at the start, the brief was to cover the manga all the way to its end with two cours of anime. The structure of the series was determined from there. The standard method of dealing with adaptations is to start from the ending and work backwards to allot the individual episodes, but because the manga was still ongoing at the time, we had to start work on some parts before the structure was completely set in stone.

Regarding the first episode, we arranged the complex plot in the manga's first volume to make it easier to understand. We also sped up the pacing to make the story more accessible. This was a decision that both the anime production side and the manga side came to. That said, I initially envisioned the first episode without an opening or ending sequence when I was writing it, so the final product came out with even quicker pacing than I anticipated…

ANN: How do you see the relationship between Henry and Richard? Is there a specific type of attraction or emotion that you're trying to convey as existing between them? How do you see that as impacting the rest of the character relationships in the story?

UCHIDA: I see them as two lonely souls who are drawn to each other. Because of this, their relationship becomes more difficult as their souls are bared. I wrote the anime scripts in a way that makes the anguish stand out even more.

ANN: Although Requiem of the Rose King is a Japanese production, it is based on English literature. Are there any cultural considerations you've had in mind while writing the script? Do you think that Shakespeare's work transcends borders? 

UCHIDA: There aren't too many Japanese anime that are set overseas. Because of this, we anticipated that there could be confusion over the numerous characters with the same name, so at the script-writing stage we decided to display their names with onscreen text. Japanese people also aren't too familiar with place names from overseas, so we decided from the start not to put a strong focus on the war.

As for the cultural matters, the fact that they aren't well known in Japan makes the setting of the story more intriguing as an element, so we endeavored not to remove any of that from the anime.

As someone who has written a diverse array of stories, Shakespeare is a necessary part of any screenwriter's education. Even in Japan, there are many stories that have inherited Shakespeare's essence; I think at that point, his work transcended national borders.

Requiem of the Rose King is streaming on Funimation. The manga is available from Viz Media

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