Shakespeare meets tragic shoujo in this remix of the story of Richard III.
Story/Art: Aya Kanno
Translation/Adaptation: Jocelyne Allen
What They Say
Richard, the ambitious third son of the House of York, believes he is cursed, damned from birth to eternal darkness. But is it truly fate that sets him on the path to personal destruction? Or his own tormented longings? Based on an early draft of Shakespeare’s Richard III, Aya Kanno’s dark fantasy finds the man who could be king standing between worlds, between classes, between good and evil. Richard’s father, the patriarch of the House of York, is poised to become king of medieval England during the bloody Wars of the Roses. But just as success is imminent, he is abruptly cut down. Plunged into despair, Richard acts out in revenge and must face a powerful and beautiful new enemy.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Nearly 400 years after the death of William Shakespeare his work remains popular around the globe. Endlessly remixed and retold the usual pick is Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, or Macbeth. The War of the Roses has inspired countless modern writers, including G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. Richard III seems like a strange, albeit timely choice for a manga artist to tackle, but that’s what Aya Kanno has done. The end result is a reimagining of a classic story that is now thrice removed from the true history of events, becoming it’s own creature with it’s own twists and turns.
We aren’t given much history about the War of the Roses, just a simply preamble from the Duke of York and the questionable status of who should be sitting on the throne. The story starts a bit fragmented and jumpy. Years pass in the blink of an eye with the young Richard slowing aging up from a young child to a preteen. There’s a dreamlike quality to the timeline, moving in and out of events which depict an upbringing for Richard devoid of a mother’s love. In fact she actively scorns her child for what Richard is.
Richard, who in reality suffered from scoliosis, is given a different physical condition as a driving force of strife. The new twist to the tale provides an interesting take on identity and fate, and gives Richard a different edge than the one from Shakespeare. This Richard is equally cold and driven, but also fearful of being found out for what he is and resentful of his body. He’s haunted by the ghost of Joan of Arc, who chides him for what he is and drives his lust for power. Richard ends up being a youth full of narrowly confined anger whose only desire is to see his father on the throne. It’s as if that alone would give him legitimacy.
Counter to Richard’s dark internal and external struggle is that of King Henry VI. We don’t see his face for many of his scenes on the throne, where he defers to his controlling wife Margaret while she takes charge of his armies against the Duke of York. Margaret is shown to be a bloodthirsty woman who is bitter and resentful of her pacifist husband. Henry is a devout Christian who would rather seek peace than war. He would willingly give up the throne if it meant his people would not suffer and he’d be spared of the bloodshed.
Kanno has her Richard and Henry meet under the canopy of the woods, away from politics and strife. Henry finds the lonely and scared Richard a kindred spirit, and Richard momentarily is seen not as a demon or the youngest child but as something that isn’t disgraceful. It’s not enough for Richard, who shuns any attempt at friendship, but the moment exists. Both do not realize whom the other is, and they return to conflict soon after with Henry falling further into a war he does not want and Richard goading his father on to seek the throne and to never surrender.
Kanno is known chiefly for her previous series, Otomen. She still has a penchant for drawing beautiful men and women, with every character a perfect specimen next to the waifish and wild-eyed Richard. The costuming is detailed, the setting well realized, and the brief scenes of the conflict appropriately bloody. I do wish Viz had replicated the first few pages in color, they probably would have been lovely.
You don’t need to be familiar with all things Shakespeare to enjoy this new take on an old classic. Sticklers for history beware, this was never meant to be an accurate portrayal of real events and personages. It exists in the same space as the Shakespeare play it was inspired from, tragic and theatrical and full of brilliant costumes and symbolism. The War of the Roses is portrayed as beautiful and cruel, with both Richard and Henry as victims of a tragic fate. I’m curious to see where Kanno takes her Richard and how he will arrive at his final place in history.
Content Grade: B +
Art Grade: A –
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: A –
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: March 10th, 2015