Requiem of the Rose King
Episode 1-2

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Requiem of the Rose King ?
Community score: 3.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
Requiem of the Rose King ?
Community score: 3.2

I can't blame anyone who is feeling a bit at sea after the opening two episodes of Requiem of the Rose King. Not only are the ties to the two Shakespeare plays it's based on (Henry VI Part Three and Richard the Third) tenuous at best, the show is also playing a bit faster and looser with the history than the source manga does as well. Most notably, it combines two battles during the Wars of the Roses in order to kill off two characters in the same episode – Sir John Grey (whose name is engraved on his locket, a very nice little detail), who died in the Second Battle of Albans in 1461, and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, who died in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. In all fairness, the second episode does more or less show them in chronological order (i. e. York dies first), but if you didn't know they were two separate occasions, you wouldn't from the anime. My hope is that these earlier episodes are just trying to get to the bit where Henry VI is officially deposed and that things will slow down then.

In any event, welcome to fifteenth-century England and the ugliest family feud to grace the British throne! Okay, one of the ugliest; the power of the English monarch is one that's been the subject of more than one fight between family members. The Wars of the Roses was fought between two branches of the Plantagenet family and would ultimately end with them losing power to the Tudors, but right now we're still in the thick of things. Essentially Richard, Duke of York, wanted to replace Henry VI on the throne, as he kind of had as Lord Protector when Henry had a mental breakdown prior to the series' start. As we can see this week, things didn't necessarily go as planned, but luckily (?) for him, he had three sons who could ostensibly take his place: Edward, George, and Richard.

Get used to hearing those names a lot, because while there were other names people gave their sons in the fifteenth century, these three were clearly among the most popular. We've already got at least double Richards and Edwards in the short space of two episodes. Our main Richard is York's youngest son, made infamous by Shakespeare, although he certainly didn't start the process. Requiem of the Rose King, however, takes a different view of history's notorious villain – here Richard is the youngest child of York and his wife Cecily, loved by his father and spurned by his mother for a “monstrous” body, which, as we learn this week, isn't scoliosis (which the real Richard's skeleton shows evidence of), but is due to him being intersex. While original creator Aya Kanno has said that she did this in the pursuit of androgyny, from just these two episodes we can see that perhaps Richard is meant to embody the idea that gendered divides are not as all-important as Medieval thought would have them.

We need look no further than Margaret of Anjou in the second episode. Margaret is practically a Lady Macbeth (pre-act five breakdown), leading her troops in battle and gleefully tormenting York before killing him with her own hands. She's definitely exchanged her “milk for gall” and isn't beholden to any rules of honor or conduct. As a woman, perhaps she's unbound by ideas of chivalry; certainly she's reveling in her cruelties as she seeks to secure the succession for her son Edward. That stands in interesting contrast to Cecily, Richard's mother, who puts on an excellent show for York of being a poor little weak woman who only wants her baby boy to keep her company before turning on that same son the minute York has ridden out of the courtyard. Cecily seeks to protect her husband at the expense of her child; Margaret only cares about her child and couldn't care less about her husband. Neither of them are precisely filling any “correct” womanly roles, and may in fact be more vicious than the armored men fighting the battles.

That makes Richard's encounter with the ghost of Joan of Arc in the first episode particularly interesting. Joan's been brought over from a different play, Henry VI Part One, where she is damned as a witch by the English because she's out there leading an army against them. That is precisely what another French woman, Margaret, is doing here, but the difference is that Margaret is fighting for Henry VI, while Joan was fighting against him. Red or white, French or English, what side you're on is really what makes all the difference in how people see you, and heaven help you if you somehow fall in the middle, like Richard does with his body.

That bears remembering as the story moves forward. How both Henry and his son Edward are drawn to Richard (with Henry possibly seeing him as a pure being, which is how the French saw Joan) shows that emotions are not so black-and-white. Richard is reviled by one parent and adored by the other (and the scene at the end of episode two where he thinks he's hugging his father but in reality is holding his head, Yorrick-style, is heartbreaking), Anne Neville – whom we saw briefly in episode one – will be married to two kings on opposite sides of the war, and John Grey's widow will go on to be Queen of England while his great-great-granddaughter will be executed for the same. Everything is malleable in its way, and whether this is the winter of our discontent or of its joy simply depends on which way you turn the picture.

Rating:

Requiem of the Rose King is currently streaming on Funimation.


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