Historical fiction is a genre you don’t see enough of in comic books or manga, so it’s with great anticipation that we crack open Viz Media’s new book, Requiem of the Rose King. Is it good?
Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Very loosely based on Shakespeare’s Richard the III, this tale is about Richard, an outcast prince who’s doing a good job looking a bit goth. Set during the War of the Roses in England of 1455, Queen Margaret and King Henry the VI fight on one side with the white rose as their emblem. Richard, Duke of York is on the other side, marked by the rose emblem, who has three children; Richard the III is his youngest. Richard III has been made an outcast largely because of bad juju at his birth and the fact that he was born deformed. Anyone who knows a bit of history should know Richard the III goes on to become the last of the medieval Kings of England.
Aya Kanno writes and draws this manga with a lot going on with family drama and otherworldly elements all combining into a sometimes confusing story. She intertwines the drama of kingly politics, mystical scenes and a very peculiar yet interesting sexual identity crisis for Richard as his deformity is being born without sexual organs. Right from the start you’ll be drawn to the Richard character, partly due to his outcast nature, but also the connections he has to a mystical world. When the story cuts back to the family drama and politics it becomes a bit confused, a bit boring, and you want to get back to the weird stuff. Joan of Arc plays a part in these mystical bits and we soon learn she has a connection to Richard that should pique most readers’ interest.
The most compelling aspect of this manga is a relationship Richard casts with someone from the rival group who happens to be sharing the cover with him. The relationship is odd, and not the most obvious, as Kanno appears to be instilling a sort of erotic relationship between the two characters. There’s blushing, sexual tension and a closeness the characters share which suggest Richard may be gay. Because of the way Kanno portrays these it feels forbidden, for the obvious reason of rival families, but for the sexual reasons as well. It makes the read feel a lot more modern than it is and gives it a powerful purpose. That said, it isn’t quite clear where it’s going with this just yet.
Which is ultimately one of the bigger problems with this read. Aside from establishing Richard III it doesn’t do a lot in the ways of exploring where it wants to go, especially with the mystical elements. These elements pop in and out without much purpose aside from perplexing the reader when they could be its strongest elements. The relationship between Richard III and his brothers and father aren’t very strong either and leave you wondering if we’re getting Richard III’s perspective or if they just aren’t close. His relationship to his evil mother however is much more obvious, but again, Kanno doesn’t go very deep with these elements. Kanno does end the manga well, and while the twist isn’t the most surprising, it’s done in a dramatic way that satisfies enough.
Kanno’s art is good, with a lot of close ups and focus on character faces. I can’t say it’s the most coherent with its layouts, as there are times I’m confused as to where characters are spatially, but since this is more of a soap opera it isn’t much of a problem. There isn’t much in the way of backgrounds, which sometimes makes a scene almost read as if it were a dream. Maybe this is the point, but it tends to leave the reader wondering the gravity of a situation when it reads as if it’s not taking place in reality. Kanno is solid at capturing emotion though, and the dramatic beats you’ve come to expect from manga and anime alike are hammered home beautifully.
While sometimes confusing, Requiem of the Rose King is a good start to a series that has a compelling lead character, interesting mystical elements and some oddly beautiful forbidden sexual tensions that brings the weird.