Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1Creator: Aya Kanno
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421567785
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2014

The English-language release of Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King was one of the manga that I was most looking forward to in 2015. Several of Kanno’s series have previously been translated into English—Soul Rescue, Blank Slate, and Otomen—all of which are quite different from one another, and Requiem of the Rose King is different still. I tend to enjoy Kanno’s work, but I was particularly interested in Requiem of the Rose King because the series is based on William Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III, the first tetralogy of a series of plays that dramatize the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict over the English crown in the fifteenth-century. I adore Shakespeare (I actually used to perform monologues competitively as part of my high school’s speech and drama team back in the day) and so was excited to learn about Kanno’s adaptation and thrilled when Viz Media licensed it. Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1 was first released in Japan in 2014 while Viz’s English-language edition was published in 2015.

Young Richard is the third son of the Duke of York, a man who many believe to be the rightful successor to England’s throne. The current king, Henry VI, inherited rulership from his father as a child, but the Lancasters are accused of usurping the crown when their house executed King Richard II for treason. Richard desires nothing more than to see his father crowned king and as his son to prove himself worthy of his noble lineage. But Richard’s fate is a troubled one. His body, not fully male, is considered to be deformed and weak, a sign of demonic influence. He is plagued by nightmares, visions, and seemingly prophetic dreams. Richard is adored by his father and loved by his older brothers, but his mother despises him, believing his cursed existence to be a harbinger of evil and death and ashamed of her role in bringing him into the world. Whether or not it is because of Richard’s presence, that world is about to descend into chaos and civil war as the Yorks and the Lancasters vie for the crown.

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1, page 58Requiem of the Rose King is not a strict adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays. Instead, Kanno uses them as a source of inspiration, remixing, as she describes it, the characters, dialogue, and settings of Shakespeare’s originals to create a distinct work of her own. The manga’s English translation is excellent. With their refined formality and elegance, the patterns of speech, dialogues, and monologues are reminiscent of Shakespeare without necessarily quoting directly from his plays. A reader does not at all need to be familiar with Henry VI or Richard III to enjoy Requiem of the Rose King. One of the most striking differences between Requiem of the Rose King and Shakespeare’s dramas is the portrayal of Richard. At this point in the series, Kanno’s Richard is a much more sympathetic character than Shakespeare’s ever was. However, there is still a tense and ominous atmosphere that surrounds him in Requiem of the Rose King. It is very clear that the first volume of the manga is a prelude to even grater tragedies to come.

There is always a danger of disappointment when anticipating a manga to such a great extent, but I can honestly say that I loved the first volume of Requiem of the Rose King. It’s theatric and dramatic, with appealing artwork and interesting interpretations of historical figures. Because Requiem of the Rose King is based on plays that were already dramatizations of actual persons and events, the series isn’t rigorous in its historical accuracy. However, I find Kanno’s version to be both fascinating and immensely engaging. The manga is a bit fragmented in its storytelling, quickly moving from one scene to the next and to from time to time overlapping dreams and reality, but I feel this effectively reinforces the turmoil of the era as well as the unrest experienced by the individual characters. Requiem of the Rose King is a beautifully dark and compelling historical fantasy. I’m very much looking forward to reading the second volume and seeing how the rivalry between the Lancasters and the Yorks continues to play out.

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