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The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
Requiem of the Rose King

How would you rate episode 1 of
Requiem of the Rose King ?
Community score: 3.4

What is this?

Richard's father, the patriarch of the House of York, is poised to become king of medieval England during the bloody Wars of the Roses. But just as success is imminent, he is abruptly cut down. Plunged into despair, Richard acts out in revenge and must face a powerful and beautiful new enemy.

Requiem of the Rose King is based on Aya Kanno's manga and streams on Funimation on Sundays.

How was the first episode?

Nicholas Dupree

Yes. Yes! The time to feast on gothic cheese like a raccoon dumpster diving behind a haunted Kraft factory has finally arrived! I've been looking forward to this particular title for a bit now, even more so since it was announced that the director of the weird horror/comedy Angels of Death would be handling the adaptation. It's not because I have any attachment to the source material, but rather I just love dark, theatrical, high drama, and “anime retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy” is pretty much guaranteed to be that. So I was ready to eat up this premiere regardless of its actual quality, but I'm glad to say it holds up even if you aren't a mark for this genre.

That said, there's definitely a learning curve to hurdle with this introduction. While the story itself is very different from Shakespeare's Richard III, and doesn't require any familiarity to understand, a passing grasp of the names and sides of the actual Wars of the Roses is definitely helpful. That conflict was a confusing mess in real life, featuring dozens of important figures, half of whom shared a name and they only got a number next to theirs to differentiate if they won. Filtered through anime designs and an extremely fast-paced introduction that skims at mach speed over the ground battles of the war(s), it's easy to get lost. This isn't insurmountable – the central personal drama of Richard's self-loathing and tumultuous familial relations is understandable even if you don't know who the Duke of Somerset was – but it definitely leaves this premiere feeling disjointed in places that could put folks off.

At the same time, the story is fascinating, both as its own tale and a reimagining of the classic representation of Richard III as a person. The Shakespeare play, itself at least partially a work of pro-Tudor propaganda in its day, portrayed Richard Gloucester as a physically deformed, ruthlessly scheming monster who betrayed people as quick as he'd look at them, and that's the image that has held for centuries since. Rose King goes a different route entirely, changing his often exaggerated scoliosis to being intersex, and painting the picture of a child rejected for his unusual body and desperately fighting for recognition even as he internalizes his image as a “demon child” to assist his beloved father. It's a striking idea that offers a lot of fascinating avenues to take a character that has historically been treated as a remorseless monster in both body and spirit.

There is a caveat to this, as we've already had at least one scene where the threat of exposing Richard's female anatomy is mined for drama, which is less than great, and I'm very much unqualified to speak on if this presentation is kosher to intersex viewers. But for now at least, the narrative seems fully sympathetic to Richard as a person and his assertion of his identity. There's a lot of room for things to get messy, but I'm cautiously hopeful the series can do something with the topic besides mine it for tawdry drama.

And if nothing else, the visuals absolutely sell this premiere. The animation is limited at most, with a few awkward CG shots poking in during the extremely short moments of battle, but it makes up for that with sheer style. Shadow forms, paper cutouts, stage-like framing and backgrounds, and a strong focus on dictating tone through color makes this a riveting watch even as the production gets a little ahead of itself. There's barely a scene that goes by without at least one drop-dead gorgeous still frame, and it's the perfect complement to the elevated emotions and high drama of the story. It's not the most technically accomplished production of the season, but it's easily my favorite to look at so far.

There's a lot more I could talk about for a long time, like the embarrassing noise I made when I realized the show was setting up a star-crossed, doomed lovers dynamic between Richard and god damn Henry VI. Or the amazingly homoerotic scene between him and William Catesby that gets funnier the more I think about it. But all that would just amount to reiterating that this hole was made for me, and I am more than ready to plunge down it.

Caitlin Moore

Hoo boy. Requiem of the Rose King has a ridiculous amount to unpack, and I don't know how the dresser is organized.

To start with, as I realized quickly, there is a presumed familiarity with at least some of the source material. Requiem of the Rose King is an adaptation of a reinterpretation of a fictionalized version of historical events, and I have really only the vaguest familiarity with any of them. I know the War of the Roses was a succession battle, and that Richard III had a hunchback in the Shakespeare play. I know that Aya Kanno, who wrote the manga, uses her art to explore gender and that she chose to write Richard III as intersex rather than deformed. With that base knowledge, I found myself completely lost over the course of the episode. Characters appeared and disappeared, and scenes seemed to follow one another without any sense of narrative flow. I got the basic idea – that Richard is intersex and wants to join his father on the battlefield – but couldn't follow the particulars.

The animation is also sadly lacking. A historical fantasy like Requiem of the Rose King deserves a lush production that brings the setting to life in all its gothic detail, and it got, well, not that. The gothic aesthetic it inherited from the manga is lovely, and there are attempts to replicate it. This works best in the stylized sequences and there are some moments of truly striking framing and storyboarding, but otherwise, the character animation is stiff and quickly goes off-model or loses detail, even though the people are all beautiful. There's some good impressionistic use of color, but the vast majority of the episode has a similar color palette to a AAA video game circa 2015: desaturated gray and brown.

The central conflict, of Richard struggling with his identity as intersex as he struggles to conceal it against the background of the War of the Roses, is full of potential. Despite the lack of narrative coherence, I still felt drawn into his relationships and his self-hatred. If the story can slow down enough to breathe, instead of jumping from event to event, I do think it can be something really great.

And as for the gender stuff… well, I'll just leave that one on the floor for someone more qualified to unpack it.

Rebecca Silverman

Shakespeare's histories are often maligned as being less interesting than his comedies or tragedies. That's not entirely unfair, but it isn't the reason to steer clear of Requiem of the Rose King, which is based on Henry VI (primarily part three) and Richard III. No, the chief reason you might want to skip this is that it's a little dull for a war story and is merrily ripping through the beginning in what I presume to be a bid to get to the point where political machinations take over the plot. That's a bit disappointing in terms of adaptation, and I didn't love this episode as much as I was hoping to.

It does, however, still manage to capture some of the more interesting aspects of Aya Kanno's source manga, as well as Shakespeare's plays. One character of note is Joan of Arc, who Shakespeare portrays…less than charitably. (Which makes sense, considering he's British and when he lived.) We're used to seeing some creative interpretations of the French heroine, but this version of her is in line with contemporary English views: she's slightly evil and malicious, a witch in all but name. She haunts Richard, tormenting him with the secret about his body (which isn't quite what Edward of Westminster thinks), which in turn drives him to be more masculine in his attitudes than either of his brothers. That he's doing this for his father's approval is obvious; when he rescues an albino boar at Anne Neville's behest and keeps it as a pet rather than eating it, it's a sign that he's perhaps not being true to himself. This Richard isn't quite the one belonging to either Shakespeare or history, and that's a point in the episode's favor, giving it a unique angle with which to approach the story.

The visuals are worth noting as well, not because they're spectacular or gorgeously animated, but because the use of color is well thought out. Joan's scenes are psychedelic in their use of color, showing Richard's state of mind; Richard is primarily shown in shades of grays throughout, giving us both an image of how he sees himself and also foreshadowing his role in the story; the Duke of York and Richard's older brothers Edward and George are drawn in shades of white, showing us how Richard idolizes them. The scene where Richard meets Henry VI in the forest may be a bit on the nose with how the colors are done, but it's still very effective, especially when Richard flees from Henry's light back into the shadows of himself.

I'm restraining myself from going too much into history and Shakespeare here, but those are two very good reasons TO watch this. (Or if you were wondering where George R. R. Martin got Game of Thrones from.) I'll certainly give it another couple of episodes to see if things will slow down now that Henry is in York custody, and also because I love Shakespeare and history, surprising exactly no one.

Richard Eisenbeis

Going in, I wasn't familiar with Shakespeare's Richard III—nor with the War of the Roses in general—beyond knowing it was centered around a series of civil wars for the English throne. So I have to admit, there were times that I wasn't quite sure who was who or what was going on. I guess I should thank the creators for having literal title cards for every important character—if nothing else, this allowed me to look up how everyone was related to each other online. I also appreciated the visual motif of having most characters wearing either a white rose or a red one—be it a literal rose or a painted emblem on their armor.

As an anime or even as a modern story, this one feels a bit weird—mostly due to the pacing. It's clear that this anime is based on both real events as well as a play as there is a stilted nature to the narrative. We jump from important event to important event throughout Richard's early life and skip what should be action-filled battles to focus only upon their preludes and aftermaths.

However, despite all this, Richard's personal dilemma shines through. Seeming to be neither male nor female, his body is “disfigured” by the standards of the time. He sees himself as a cursed child—loved by his father and hated by his mother. Yet, while his circumstances are unique, his feelings are not. As an outcast, all he really wants is to be loved and to be normal. Yet, despite this, he seems destined to play the bad guy. When it comes down to it, Richard still believes in a childish delusion: that the crown will make his father happy and all their problems magically go away. The true tragedy of this episode is that Henry is unable to make Richard see the truth during their all-too-brief meeting. It's a lesson Richard will have to learn the hard way before this series reaches its end.

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