Aya Kanno’s manga series Requiem of the Rose King has quickly become one of the releases that I most look forward to from one volume to the next. I’m not particularly surprised by this, though—I’ve enjoyed many of Kanno’s past works, and she has proven to be quite versatile when it comes to genre and style. In the case of Requiem of the Rose King, Kanno has taken direct inspiration from the historical plays of William Shakespeare, more specifically the Wars of the Roses cycle consisting of Henry VI and Richard III. Even if Kanno hadn’t been involved with the manga, this would have been more than enough to catch my attention. But Kanno is involved and she brings her own touches to the story, giving it a dark fantasy-tinged atmosphere in addition to exploring gender and identity in an interesting and engaging way. With all of that and more, I have been completely taken with Requiem of the Rose King, and so was glad when the third volume of the series, originally released in Japan in 2015, was published in English by Viz Media in 2016.
The battle has been won and the House of York reigns victorious, but the struggle for the English crown continues; the war is far from being over. The deposed King Henry seems content to wander the countryside, the weight of rulership lifted from his shoulders, but the rest of the Lancasters are plotting to return their family to power and reclaim the throne. The hold that the newly established King Edward has on the England is in more peril than he realizes. In addition to the threat that the Lancasters pose, there are others among the nobility who are againt the House of York’s usurption of the throne. The widowed Elizabeth Woodville is prepared to take advantage of Edward’s womanizing ways in order to bring about his and his family’s downfall; besotted with Elizabeth, he puts his own desires before the security of the kingdom, risking the loss of the support of France. His younger brother Richard is one of the few people to recognize the danger, but Richard isn’t yet in a position to avert the potentially calamitous outcome.
I continue to be fascinated by Kanno’s interpretation of Richard, a young man who has been irrevocably harmed by the the rejection and hatred of his mother who sees him and his body as imperfect and demonic. He has a difficult time connecting with people because of the anxiety surrounding his self-identity, an issue made even worse by the recent death of his father on the battlefield. Henry is a perfect foil for Richard and is in many ways his opposite, which throws Richard’s perception of himself and of the world into confusion. Richard has resigned himself to loneliness and darkness, even while Henry seeks his company. The two men spend a fair amount of time together in Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 3, neither of them knowing who the other truly is and that their families are enemies. Much as Edward and Elizabeth’s relationship may doom the kingdom, Richard and Henry’s awkward friendship can only result in tragedy with far-reaching consequences.
Personal strife is mixed with political turmoil in Requiem of the Rose King, each feeding into the other as events unfold. With multiple people expressing interest in obtaining the crown, whether in jest or in all seriousness, the social structures and relationships among the English nobility have become extraordinarily precarious during a time of tenuous peace. This underlying chaos is also reflected in how Kanno approaches the story of Requiem of the Rose King. Many times several scenes overlap with one another, tied together thematically rather than chronologically. Pasts, presents, and possible futures all intertwine and are simultaneous revealed. This can be somewhat disconcerting at first and at times challenging to follow, but I do like the overall effect and drama that it brings to the series, emphasizing the individual characters’ experiences as memories, reality, and visions merge together. Requiem of the Rose King has an almost dreamlike quality to it and I find that I fall more deeply under its thrall with each passing volume.