Warning: contains spoilers.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Consign their parts most private to a Rutland tree… And gentlemen in London now still abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here. And hold their manhoods cheap while others speak of those who fought with us ‘pon Ralph the Liar’s day!” – Peter Cook (as Richard III in “Blackadder”)
Continuing with Aya Kanno’s not entirely faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s historical “Wars of the Roses” plays, Volume 2 begins with more tragedy for the young boy who will become Richard III – well, we say boy, but in Requiem of the Rose King young Richard is intersex rather than hunchbacked, but he always refers to himself as a boy when everyone else around him calls him a girl.
It begins with young Richard’s father, Richard, Duke of York, having lost in battle to Queen Margaret, the manipulative and powerful wife to Henry VI. Margaret humiliates the Duke by making him wear a Biblical crown of thorns and eventually making him weep before she has him decapitated. Young Richard is being kept by Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, who tells him that Richard’s mother has gone back to York with his brothers, leaving Richard – whom she hates – behind. Richard takes matters into his own hands, killing a Lancastrian guard and stealing his clothes so he can escape in disguise, although he is shocked to find that the guard in question had a family. Before Richard manages to flee, he encounters the wandering and friendly Henry VI who wants to go with him, but Richard leaves him behind.
The Lancastrians try to take control of London, but the mayor refuses to let them into the city. Meanwhile Richard rides to York. During the trip he gets lost in a forest, is attacked by bandits who almost rape him before realising that he is not a girl, and then finds a church where he learns of the fate of his father. Richard then discovers his father’s severed head on a spike, which he kisses and takes. Eventually there is another battle between York and Lancaster, where Richard makes a violent stand, but eventually York win and it is Richard’s eldest brother who gains the throne, becoming Edward IV. The story then moves forward several years and sees Richard, Edward and their middle brother George starting to fall in love with women. Richard falls for sweet Anne Neville, while Edward is attracted to Elizabeth Woodville, who harbours a dark secret relating to Richard.
The second volume of Requiem of the Rose King reads better than the first. Many of the characters have had a chance to develop, especially Edward IV, as he starts to embrace his power and becomes more involved romantically. We still also get to revel in young Richard’s darker side, especially on the battlefield. Admittedly the scene in which young Richard almost gets raped is rather disturbing, not just because of the rape, but also from the way the bandits’ attitude towards their prize changes from wanting to kill him when they think Richard is male, to wanting to rape him when they think Richard is female, to being confused when one bandit slips his hand down towards Richard’s crotch. The way that gender is dealt with in this manga is indeed complex. There is no black-and-white way of dealing with it, but the most disturbing aspect is how people react to Richard rather than Richard himself. The manga appears to be developing a theory as to how Richard eventually becomes the way he is due to all the hatred he receives during his earlier life.
As with the first volume, the elements that make this manga strong are still there: the high quality of Kanno’s artwork and the development of the characters. There also appear to be fewer historical inaccuracies in this volume, although you have to remember that this is more of a fantasy re-working, so, combined with all the fighting and the intrigue, you also have young Richard being haunted in his dreams by the ghost of Joan of Arc.
This manga is becoming a lot more enjoyable and hopefully it will keep up the momentum as we delve more into Edward IV’s reign.