Spoiler warning: This review discusses specific plot events and implications from Requiem of the Rose King episode 2.
Last week Requiem of the Rose King made a great first impression with high drama, compelling characters, and a premise utterly unlike that of any other anime this season. On the down side, it’s main cons were rushed pacing and stiff animation in some scenes. Does the second episode continue to impress?
I’ll start near the top of the episode with a scene which encapsulates Richard’s relationships with his parents. With war on the horizon Richard is prepared to join his father on the battlefield, and the elder Richard beams with pride and excitement. Who better to stop our protagonist from getting what he wants, however, than his own mother? Cecily puts on a show of hysterics to convince her husband not to let Richard go. Once her husband is out of earshot, she clutches Richard and coldly tells him that he is the cause of all their misfortune and that she will never allow him to fight alongside his father.
This is a great start to the episode, reminding viewers of the rejection Richard faces from his own family. Even if it’s only the mother who holds such deep hatred, the othering of Richard is crucial to understanding how he’s turned out so much more bloodthirsty and vindictive than his elder brothers. Beyond just its writing, the scene is elevated by the sound effect used when Cecily squeezes Richard’s head. There’s nothing gentle about it; the brutal crunching noise is the cherry on top that really sells how little love this mother has for her child.
This episode’s other highlight comes when Richard and Henry meet for the second time. It’s a brief scene, but Henry’s theme music continues to tug at the heartstrings from its very first chord onward. There’s just a magical quality to it befitting these tragic Shakespearean figures. Every time they run into each other the pacing slows for just a moment and it’s as if we’re watching the ballad in the middle of high octane drama. The peace can never last for long, but it goes a long way in reinforcing how much of Richard’s course is driven by outside forces and not always logically thought out desires.
Unfortunately, there’s little else positive to say about this episode besides those approximately four cumulative minutes. In terms of writing and story, the pacing is even more haphazard than last time. It’s as if all the wrong moments are allowed to linger whereas those most in need of breathing room to deepen their impact are just sped by. The scenes involving Richard’s father are especially egregious, and the scene in which Richard discovers his detached head doesn’t effectively sell the emotional turmoil at all. Richard mows through some enemy soldiers before we as viewers can even get a grip on what’s happening, robbing the scene of its potential for mounting tension. While I firmly believe adaptations should be free to differ from their source material, it is perhaps indicative of the episode’s overall quality that one of the manga’s most startling moments is rendered here only in crude silhouette.
Speaking of silhouettes, they’re all over this episode. Monochrome silhouettes and faceless figures dominate almost every scene, and they look horrible. This is not a case of the stylistically uncanny being used to convey some theme; the majority of the episode just looks like it was developed on such a low budget that the final product doesn’t even feel complete. This is virtually always the case in any shot featuring unnamed soldiers, and the frankly the horrors of war carry no weight when said soldiers come across like crash test dummies or even less individuated Putty Patrollers.
It would be one thing if this problem were exclusive to background figures, but it mars the core plot and central characters as well. At one point the elder Richard is held captive by Margaret, and what should be perhaps the episode’s most tense scene is just a montage of faceless forms sitting in their places while a recording of the voice actors plays. It could hardly even be said that the characters themselves are speaking since, being faceless, they have no mouths or other avenues for physical expression whatsoever. Props to the vocal cast at least for all doing solid jobs, since they carry almost all of the episode’s dramatic weight on their backs.
Besides the faceless people, there are also frequently silhouetted characters who could perhaps indicate a storybook aesthetic but lack the beauty and sense of effort in rendering necessary for such an endeavor to work. There are also several examples of the same frames being juggled between back and forth like the animators were trying their hardest to get squeeze every last second they could from them. Lingering and reused shots can look good when used in ways which at least match a show’s tone or reinforce key moments, but here the repetition just screams budget cues.
All in all, this episode was incredibly disappointing. Though it had its issues, the series’ first episode still made a striking first impression and set up potential for very poignant conflicts. This week, however, it’s a struggle to remember the contents of more than two or three specific scenes. The animation is simply too startlingly bad to actually focus on the story, and that’s a shame given how great this series’ story actually is.
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