Spoiler warning: This review discusses specific plot events and implications from Requiem of the Rose King episode 1.
Sometimes an anime adaptation is just what it takes for me to kick myself in gear and finally catch up in a manga. Such has been my mission as of late, reading volume after volume of Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King. The historical drama/action/romance/just generally sickening (and I mean that in the gay sense, not the pejorative) series has quickly become a favorite of mine, but how does the anime stack up? Has Kanno’s work been successfully brought to life, or is something lost in translation?
The first impression this premiere creates is one of pure dramatic beauty. The opening sequence consists of gorgeously painted still frames conveying the medieval English setting and aesthetic. These are accompanied by narration introducing the concepts of the Wars of the Roses and the two families vying for power. The series’ Shakespearean roots are also specifically acknowledged on-screen, immediately cuing viewers in to the fact that Requiem is unlike any other anime airing this season.
Richard makes for an immediately compelling protagonist. His fervid devotion to his father highlights both his deep affections and his unsightly degree of devotion. Richard is outright bloodthirsty, and a perfect example of how a morally gray (at best) character makes for much more affecting, grounded, and downright interesting “representation” than a focus grouped, squeaky clean hero.
One of the most riveting scenes in the episodes is a flashback to Richard’s very early childhood, in which he gets lost by himself in the woods at night. The differences in height and proportion between him and the shaking trees and various animals highlight his vulnerability, but it’s the disembodied voices which really bring the horror home. Richard is assaulted by an unseen chorus that tells of how his birth was a tragedy, an ushering of a demon into the world, and how countless people will go on to lament the fact that he was ever born. The voice acting is excellent, and all in all the scene really sells Richard’s status as a figure hated since birth.
Richard’s status as a demonic figure is specifically tied to his body. Richard is intersex, a fact that is known to only his attendant and his parents. Though his father (also named Richard) loves him just as he does his other sons if not more, his mother Cecily despises him and views him as a danger to her husband and everything she holds dear. These inner family tensions and discrepancies in knowledge will be pivotal moving forward.
Richard clearly thinks of himself as a man and rejects the notion of interior femininity, which is crucial to the payoff of a scene in which his naked upper body is shown within a cracked mirror. The culmination of a bout of dysphoric frustration, the moment is quite striking in its manga iteration. Unfortunately, the anime equivalent of said moment is less successful. The decision is made here to frame Richard’s body from the side as opposed to head-on. While the reasons for this change can only be speculated upon (Censorship? A difference of opinion in how best to present such dysphoric moments?), the final product just lacks oomph. The image receives a full splash page in the manga, and Richard’s face is truly haunting. Here, it instead just feels like a plot point to check off a list. Even if framed differently from the source material, it would have benefited from more of the painterly approach taken with the episode’s opening and other moments throughout.
Two scenes that are much more successful concern perhaps Richard’s most pivotal foils: Joan of Arc and Henry. Joan appears to Richard in a vision, and the art direction changes significantly to convey the supernatural, or simply mental, state of the encounter. When Joan appears Richard’s inner world is rendered in neon greens and pinks to the point of even outlines no longer being rendered in black, and Joan’s movements don’t adhere to the rules of physics. The overall aesthetic is acidic, a sharp contrast to the darker and more natural tones used throughout the rest of the episode. Joan is the manifestation of everything Richard hates to be seen or thought of as, and this visual distinction between her and the rest of reality reinforces that.
Henry, meanwhile, appears in a scene that feels like a dream in its magical presentation but which is very much real. Compared to Richard’s battle-hungry nature and questions of inner demonhood, Henry is presented as gentle, naive, and angelic. The backgrounds in this scene once again take on a beautiful painterly quality and the sound design is soft and calming, highlighting the profound effect the pair have upon one another. The image of a tear falling down Henry’s illuminated face when he sees Richard for the first time is perhaps the most stunning in the entire episode.
With that said the scene is cut much too short in just one example of the episode’s biggest flaw: its pacing. Despite the fact that the series is confirmed to air for two cours, the creators have still elected to cram virtually the entire first volume into this one, twenty-something minute episode. While many individual moments are affecting, there just isn’t enough breathing room for any specific image or plot point to get its full due. On one hand the rush enables the premiere to introduce all the most pivotal characters and roots of conflict, but there’s enough substance here that the story could have been decompressed a bit and still remained riveting. Though much less upsetting, it’s also worth noting that the animation of characters’ movements is suddenly much stiffer and more awkward looking at a few points.
All in all, this is a very strong debut episode. Plot-wise Requiem of the Rose King is perhaps the most unique anime this season, and Richard is undoubtedly the most captivating protagonist. The art direction and sound design are very nicely done and highlight all the most pivotal scenes and thematic concerns. With that said the pacing is just too fast, and there are some other hiccups along the way. I would definitely recommend this show, but fans of the manga may be a bit apprehensive about some of the small changes made.
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