By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
Baraou No Souretsu or Requiem of the Rose King has been a favorite series of mine since I first started seeing its translation on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. The series follows a young Richard III from birth to his rise to the throne and, possibly, to his death given the ominous use of “requiem“ in the title. The story is beautifully written with calls to Shakespeare’s historical plays, mostly that of Richard III, and features our future-king not as a physically crippled man but as an intersex individual.
This version of the Richard III story is thick with political schemes and themes, discussion of sex, gender, and sexuality, as well as philosophical undertones about what it takes to be a king. The last of which is the primary topic of this post, as all other aspects have been written about to the point of possible excess by many other prolific bloggers in this community. Before moving onto the discussion though, I would note here that Baraou No Souretsu is above and beyond expectation. Aya Kanno lose adaptation is a story perhaps more vivid and entertaining than even the Bard’s classic, Richard III. It touches a lot on historical context regarding the War of the Roses, which you can learn more about via the condensed but well-versed telling provided by the Richard III Society on their website or by picking up some history books on the subject. In regards to the gender, sex, and sexuality topics explored in the text, I can only recommend reading it for yourself.
Now, let’s begin.
Above is Richard II from Baraou No Souretsu. Most in the work agree that Richard II was worthy of the King’s title. He had a noble spirit, loyalty to England above all else, and was descended from Plantagenet bloodline. Their Lancaster enemies in the War of the Roses might not have agreed, but most everyone else felt like Richard II was fit for the crown and certainly more fit than his cousin, and then-king, Henry Henry VI.
Using Richard II as the model of royalty, we see that his two eldest sons fall short. Edward, the eldest, is a sex-obsessed (potential drug) addict who disregards the responsibilities of his role as a King and husband to service his own desires. He may have his father’s noble looks but he himself does not have the personality. There is even a disregard for morality, both of his time and ours, as–in an aphrodisiac, drug-induced state–Edward attempts to sexually assault his youngest brother, and our protagonist, Richard III. This happens in a scene were Edward has drugged Richard and a room full of counselors against their will:
Richard II, by comparison, was a devoted husband and father who took great care in raising his children to love each other. His youngest he seemed to love most of all, giving as much affection as he could to the child, Richard III, whose mother called him a demon after being born with an intersex-body. Richard II even gives the child his own name, “the name of a king,” ensuring that Richard III never doubts his father’s affection for him (volume 1). This simple act is something that saves Richard III more than once from the despair of his brothers’ immaturity and mother’s cruelty.
The political plot is extremely fascinating and I’ve latched onto Richard’s, and the other characters’, definition of what makes a king–a concept I am deeply interested in if you’ve read some of my previous posts.
After Richard II’s death, the youngest son, Richard III takes to the battlefield with a vigor outweighing his brothers. It is through this time that the young Richard shows the most aptitude for strategy, fighting, and leadership among his brothers despite his effeminate looks, physiological problems as an intersex individual, and weak appearance. Yet despite having some support behind him should he choose to go after the throne, he rejects it. Instead, we see him time and time again attempting to protect his father’s legacy and brothers, displaying absolute loyalty for several volumes.
At his breaking point, we are shown that the two elders do not uphold the spirit of a King and neither do their children. His eldest has all the problems described above (and then some), with his nephews showing greed and narcissism well above their age (the influence of their parents, no doubt). To reaffirm this sentiment, Richard III makes a statement about Edward not being a King after the near assault by said brother. It is shown when Edward–so enthralled in his vices–lets the crown that is very much a symbol of their father’s legacy, and a symbol of the what everyone in that room has fought for in the war, roll away:
His second oldest brother, George, is also not King-material. George is far too greedy–going so far as to aim to kill their eldest brother for the throne, not because he actually thinks the eldest is a bad king or hurting people through his actions, but simply because George wants to be king instead.
Richard III is perhaps the only one truly worthy. He is one who wants the crown but does not feel he deserves it. While the world makes him a villain, and he is cunning–he is also very human and very much wanting to live up to the legacy his father has set for himself and his siblings. I’m reminded of Plato’s The Republic and the question of power. Who deserves it? Of one conclusion made, the one that sticks with me most, is the concept that those who do not covet power over those that do are perhaps the most deserving to wield such power and take roles in society that have been invested with it. In the story, other characters like the Earl of Buckingham (who later becomes Richard III’s kingmaker–a person who brings leaders to power through the exercise of political influence) seem to agree with the sentiment:
Richard III wants to be King, not because of the power, but because he truly believes the current King Henry and his brothers are not fit for the throne. Yes, he also wants to be King to live up to the legacy of his father, Richard II, who was someone fit to rule–but I still push forward with my point that he is not aiming for the crown out of a lust for power. He’s doesn’t just want to rule over people or punish those that are cruel to him–he wants it because he feels that he could actually do something good with it in the way his father would have wanted. (What that good is, we do not know.)
And, when Richard III becomes King, he seems to do just that. The people are not unhappy under his rule for the most part (or, at least, of what we’ve seen). Those that are unhappy, are unhappy because they want power for themselves or something like revenge, and Richard III stands in the way of that want.
King Henry VI, by this defining factor of not lusting for power, may also seem like a good fit. After all, he doesn’t want to be king, so he is deserving by that mindset. However, Henry is not fit for he has let those that DO want power, control the position–his wife, later his son, and so on. He lacks the will to set things right and relinquish power to another, choosing instead to suffer in his role and to allow others to suffer by extension under his, rather his wife’s, reign.
It’s a poetic look at the concept, with language equally understanding. I am reminded of Richard III’s line, “Although I prayed and wished the cursed voice would not disappear. It clung to me foolishly. And if I can never regain that lost warmth. If I cannot escape this life, then let me be a demon” as he takes his first, painful, steps towards taking power (Baraou No Souretsu, Chapter 43). He knows that the cost will be great–he will have to spill the blood of his family more than he already has, and wipe away the worst of war to clear a new path to become King but he makes that choice to sacrifice himself to the cause… to fulfill his father’s legacy and to become King. Upon achieving the crown, he has only continued down this path with each attempt at ‘having the cake and eating it, too,’ leading to trouble while each form of self-sacrifice gains further success in his life lived by fulfilling his father’s legacy.
It’s a really fascinating look at the burdens of expectation from a literary perspective. It’s also a great example of the different ways to define a “king.”
With the anime for Baraou No Souretsu releasing this coming January (2022), I highly recommend that you all look into reading the manga, if you haven’t already. Even if you don’t read the manga, I recommend checking out this anime as I am sure it will be an epic one. However, be warned that the content includes darker sexual themes, exploration into mental instability, and other potentially triggering topics. It’s one of my most beloved series, but I recognize that this may not be for everyone–hence my warning here.
If you are more interested in the Shakespeare side of things (remember, this is a loose adaptation), you can always find copies of his plays online. I prefer the Project Gutenberg version that you can read here: https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1103/pg1103.html