Spoiler warning: This review discusses specific plot developments from the first four episodes of Requiem of the Rose King.
Though its animation quality leaves much to be desired, the Requiem of the Rose King anime has thus far delivered poignant character drama. Nowhere has this been more evident than with Richard and Henry, a pair of lovers so star-crossed they can’t even see themselves for what they are. Episode four is centered around the pseudo-couple and the time they spend alone in the rain, confronting their feelings for one another and by proxy their feelings for themselves. Does this week’s installment do a good job adapting some of the manga’s biggest highlights?
Richard and Henry’s love story is compelling in how archetypal it is. Not just in the sense of which archetypes they fit individually as characters, but in the sense of what details they tell (and more often don’t tell) each other about their stations in life. This goes beyond a mere obfuscation or truth and enters territory wherein the lack of strict definition becomes integral to their relationship’s foundation.
Take Henry: in a twist of dramatic irony, he is the man Richard most seeks to kill. He is a royal who wishes nothing more than not to be one, and who has disappointed his family and attempted to cede power at every opportunity. Politically speaking he’s a unique figure in that, amidst so many characters vying for power, he is the one who least wants it.
To Richard, however, he is defined by two primary descriptors: that of the shepherd and of the traveler. When the two first meet, Henry’s identity as the shepherd signals the possibility of life outside of war. It’s a ruse devised for Henry’s protection, but it’s equally compelling as a trigger for Richard’s own retrospection. Obsessed with revenge as Richard is due to his passionate relationship with his father, virtually all of his actions concern preserving said father’s legacy. Would Richard truly be Richard divorced of his royal context?
To Henry the answer is yes, and he addresses this directly without fully knowing it. When Richard asks if Henry wants to know about his past, Henry declines. Henry cares about who Richard “is,” and this concept of being is specifically divorced from social status or sex (as is critical with regards to Richard’s own identity issues). Not only does Henry not care about Richard’s background, but he changes his own in his search for Richard and happiness. Once war impacts where the two can meet Henry changes from shepherd to traveler, a migrant whose explorations mirror Richard’s attempts to cement his place in life following the elder Richard’s death.
What does it mean to love someone without knowing anything about them? In Requiem’s case that question could be answered a myriad of ways, but it could also be rebuked. Richard and Henry don’t know all the details of each other’s family histories and greatest passions, but they do know how they act around one another as well as the way said actions makes them feel. If two people spend time together intimately and allow themselves to be vulnerable in each other’s presence, then do they truly know nothing about one another even if they don’t share all the details of their personal histories?
As in the manga, Richard and Henry’s time spent together in the cabin waiting for the rain to pass is pivotal. They are cut off, geographically and socially, from the rest of the world and their respective obligations. It’s a perfectly contained scenario wherein the characters can play off of one another and develop in ways that would be utterly impossible within their daily lives. Though their parting near the episode’s end is inevitable, it also carries with it the promise of an inevitable reuniting. The tension between the pair’s happiness together and the stresses of their lives as individuals is engrossing and triggers major investment to keep watching.
Visually this episode is mostly solid. It’s still clear that the studio is working under heavy limitations but they manage to create a final product that mostly looks quite good regardless. The use of silhouettes and strategic panning largely fits the mood throughout, and some shots are truly gorgeous. The episode’s most evocative frame is of Richard silhouetted against a starry blue sky; it truly captures how heavenly Henry finds Richard’s presence. It also paints Richard in a gentle light that contrasts well against the more brutal side of Richard we already know.
Overall, this episode is highly enjoyable. Richard and Henry are largely separated from the rest of the cast and given time just to be together and ponder questions of who they truly are. This isn’t addressed in a shallow manner, either. The show isn’t immature enough to act as if their other sides or stations in life don’t matter at all, but rather highlights a more meaningful truth: that, though shaped by their circumstances, each man possesses some internal self which points to the existence of something more.
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