by Rebecca Silverman,

Requiem of the Rose King

GN 1

Requiem of the Rose King GN 1
In late medieval England, the Lancasters and the Yorks wage war against one another. Richard, Duke of York, has three sons with his wife Cecily – Edward, George, and Richard. For reasons that are as yet unclear, Cecily hates her son Richard with a passion, although his father loves him. Richard himself is a tormented child, fearing abandonment and suffering from strange visions of Joan of Arc, who tells him that he is a demon to be feared. Loosely based on both British history and Shakespeare's history plays, Aya Kanno offers us a unique vision of history with a shoujo sensibility.

Literature and Shakespeare lovers, beware – you may not be able to read Requiem of the Rose King's first volume without compulsively checking your copies of Henry the Sixth parts one through three and Richard the Third. In part this is because mangaka Aya Kanno, creator of the much different Otomen, tells us that she is basing the story on those four plays and that she is using Japanese translations of Shakespeare for some of her dialog. While I was unable to pinpoint exact quotations from any of my editions of the plays despite the use of a different font for some lines (generally an indicator of a quoted line), the manga presents an interesting interpretation of the characters which combines both Shakespeare's interpretations of them and historical facts, making the series' first volume a unique vision of the time period.

The story begins with young Richard's birth, which is clearly a difficult one. Born heterochromatic, and there after shown with his lighter colored eye obscured by a hank of hair, he immediately disgusts Cecily, who refuses to look at him. There is no evidence of the physical deformity Shakespeare made so much of (disproven when his bones were finally discovered a few years ago), but there is definitely something off about the child. Very quickly we see that he has visions of a strange woman in armor, who turns out to be the deceased Joan of Arc. Kanno here does use Shakespeare's interpretation of the woman, making her the demonic figure the English believe her to be in Henry the Sixth Part One; the fact that she is dead also places the action in part two of the play, or sometime between parts one and two. Joan tells Richard terrible things about his fate and his own vileness, something that is belied by the fact that we see him save a wounded boar squeaker. This would seem to imply that Richard, rather than being inherently evil as his mother sees him, is instead suffering psychologically, which gives him these visions/nightmares. That's an interesting tack to take with the character, not just because of who he will grow up to be, but also because it was his father's rival, Henry VI, who was said to have hallucinations and suffer from psychological problems.

Henry and Margaret, his queen, are probably the most like their original characters, but they're more interesting than that. Kanno makes Henry VI into a very sympathetic character, disgusted by the bloodshed everyone else seems to want and really just wishing to live a quiet life. Margaret, on the other hand, is much more attached to the throne and power, and she will do whatever it takes to put the Duke of York in his place – even if it means leading the armies herself. While she doesn't get nearly as much page time as young Richard, at this point she's a little more interesting than he is, perhaps simply because she's actively moving forward in her storyline while Richard is still mired in emotional conflict.

Fascinating as all of this is, there's something that really drags about this book as well. There's a clear feeling of set up to the whole thing, as if Kanno is trying a little too hard to establish the back story to what she really wants to write about. Pages are busy with panels, and while everyone is easy enough to tell apart, everything still feels crowded and a bit claustrophobic, from the number of characters to the layout of the pages themselves. By the end of the volume things are picking up, but reading this can still feel like a slog. Luckily Viz's translation does not go the Ooku: The Inner Chamber route and there is no Shakespearean language used. The wording is still much more formal than your average manga, but more like the early twentieth century than the sixteenth. This works with Kanno's willowy, attractive character designs, giving the book a more fantasy air than some historical fiction.

Requiem for a Rose King's first volume is a little hard to get into and equally a bit difficult to keep reading. Kanno's interpretation of history and Shakespeare is interesting, but it does get bogged down at times, particularly for readers who know the plays she's using as a basis for the series. Even if you liked Kanno's previous title Otomen you may not enjoy this one, and the same can be said for Shakespeare or history purists. This manga view of a dark period of British history is neat, but definitely not for everyone.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B

+ Interesting interpretation of the characters and twist on Richard's “deformity.” Characters easily distinguished, some nice detail in the art.
Feels like a slog to read at times, may frustrate fans of the plays by not-quite quoting. Art can feel claustrophobic, storyline at times confusing.

Story & Art: Aya Kanno

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