By Aya Kanno. Released in Japan as “Baraou no Souretsu” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Viz Media.
There should probably be “And William Shakespeare” somewhere in the credits above, but I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving it out – this is a very loose interpretation of four of Shakespeare’s earliest works: the famous historical tragedy Richard III, and the less famous and more problematic trilogy, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3. That’s Henry and Richard on the cover, both looking bishonen and troubled, and surrounded by rose thorns, as is appropriate to the Wars of the Roses. Kanno sticks with much of the basic plot of the Henrys here, but adds her own twists, primarily by having Richard and Henry meet in a secret grove without recognizing each other, and feeling a bond between the two f them. It’s not quite BL, and certainly won’t be once Richard realizes who Henry is, but it’s very shoujo manga.
Richard himself is the primary focus, and rightly so. As you’d expect, the portrayal of Richard here is a lot more sympathetic than the villain of Shakespeare’s works. Rather than a deformed hunchback, Richard here seems to be intersex, much to the horror and loathing of his mother. His father doesn’t seem to mind as much, but still thinks Richard is a bit too frail and sickly to go into battle with him against the king – even though he can hear his son’s thoughts at dramatic times in the battle. There’s a nice shot of Richard as a child in the early part of this volume, before we realize that Kanno has shifted things up a bit with his background, where we see him looking almost exactly like Kitaro from the old 60s horror manga. Richard’s identity and body hatred fuels most of his anger and frustration.
Some of the Shakespeare has been left intact, of course. Queen Margaret is handled beautifully – one of Shakespeare’s strongest female roles, she gets short shrift these days as she’s not from a ‘famous’ play, but from the Henrys. She has no respect at all for her husband, and is fully prepared to step onto the battlefield and lead men against those who might claim the crown – and indeed innocents who may happen to be in the way. As for Henry himself, his piousness and weakness as a ruler is also portrayed very well here – he doesn’t want anyone to be hurt, but has no solution to offer except to keep praying. Kanno’s art excels here – a shot of Margaret looking down on Henry curled up in a ball, her face filled with disgust, is probably my favorite in the whole book. Oh yes, and the late Joan of Arc is here as well, her spirit seemingly haunting Richard, which fits with the negative portrayal of her in Shakespeare’s works, and adds a nice supernatural element to the mix.
Those who loved Otomen won’t find too many similarities here – this is a deliberate tonal change of pace from her previous series, filled with drama, intrigue, and betrayal. And a few battles, including one with Richard’s father the Duke of York that forms the cliffhanger of this volume. If you like Aya Kanno and Shakespeare, this is a very good pickup for you.