The Rose of Versailles, the manliest man is really a woman!

I will refrain from just writing, “I love this show!”a 100 times over. But seriously, I do. It combines so many of my favorite elements: history, royalty, court intrigue, and cross-dressing sword swingers! You ever wonder why shojo shows have sparkles around characters? This show is why. So many shojo creators mention this show in their influences. It ‘s historically important to the anime time-line. And that alone seems like a good reason to check it out.

I remember that each member of CLAMP mentioned that Rose of Versailles and Candy Candy were two of the biggest influences on them as children. One side note, neither of those shows got licensed in the U.S. but were breakout hits in other parts of the world besides Japan. If I remember correctly, it was rather popular in France. They did co-produce that Live-Action movie with the Japanese back in 1979. I guess that speaks volumes on how well it was done. If the French liked something that foreigners did about them it must be good. :)

By the way, I am calling this a spoiler-free discussion because nothing about Oscar is spoiled, but that doesn’t mean things known in history aren’t mentioned here. If you know nothing about the French Revolution and the things leading up to it, learn some!

You mean Marie Antoinette does not get a happy ending? I am shocked!

Rose of Versailles in one sentence is: the story of an imaginary cross-dresser who is assigned to guard a spoiled princess, whose antics kill most of the cast.

After having nothing but girls, General Jarjayes decides to to raise his 6th daughter as a boy so he can have someone to carry on the family legacy. General Jarjayes raises his “son” Oscar so well that she is chose to become the body guard for Louis the XVI’s new wife, Maire Antoinette. Since Marie Antoinette is both naive and self absorbed she frequently makes powerful enemies and horrible choices in friends. In fact most of her friends are, if not more, dangerous than her enemies. Oscar spends most of her time foiling the plots of those around her to ruin Marie Antoinette while trying to prevent Marie Antoinette from destroying herself on her own. Overtime Oscar becomes disillusioned with the royalty of France as she sees that their petty schemes and extravagance is slowly killing the French peasantry and France itself.

I think the one sentence description fits perfectly.

I really liked Rose of Versailles for two reason, even before I saw it. The first is that it was major influence on my favorite anime, Utena. Anything that helped make Utena has to be good. It’s a fact. The second reason is a secret reason. Known only to me (or anyone who knows me well enough). Other than that, Rose of Versailles is good for a number of reasons. It has beautiful animation for it’s time and beautiful animation in general. Secondly, it has iconic historical characters that are well adapted to a fictional story, while incorporating solid fictional characters. It also takes characters of minor historical importance and gives them some interesting fictional back stories. I like all of the fictional characters added to the story. A solid cast is vital to a show filled with drama, and melodrama, like this one.

The animation of this series incorporates a lot of different elements. I don’t normally bring these things up but since it is an older show I think it is worth mentioning. There are so many detailed backgrounds and period costumes that it is very daunting to think about hand drawing each and every thing. They use watercolor stills also. It also incorporates dramatic lighting, such as only certain characters being in full color. And I feel they also give you decent combat scenes. While they certainly use the flashes of light or quick cuts, you still see a sword fight. I don’t feel like they skimp on it.

It’s very clear that quite a bit of research went into making this. From what I can tell Riyoko Ikeda has done lots of research for all her historical series. There are some historical inaccuracies but most of them seem to be made for ease of plot or dramatic power rather than any lack of research.

Minus Oscar’s household, almost everyone else who appears, that has an importance to the story, is actually from history. Although, I have read her father is a real General but can find zippo about him. That isn’t to say their plots and whatnot are right out of history, but their personalities are pretty on target. Obviously, some things may be exaggerated for the convenience of storytelling. The Wikipedia character listing does a nice job of linking to the actual historical figures.

I’m sure if we were French or either of us had studied French history some of these more minor characters might be more familiar to us. Well, a lot of liberty is taken with Rosalie Lamorlière because as far as I can tell there is not that much known about her historically. Historically she was a peasant woman who looked after Marie Antoinette before she was executed. In the show she becomes Oscar’s student, and by doing so she plays a part in several rather important events. The real-life Rosalie probably had little to nothing to do with. She is also written to be secretly related to quite a number of major historical characters.

Well, the thing about history and historical fiction is since no one knows everyone and everything involved or that contributed to something, you can make things up without it seeming too unreasonable. So liberties are taken with what went on in their private lives but also in the events of the time. This is why I love historical fiction. The romances are of serious importance (because this is a shojo series), such as the one between Marie Antoinette and Hans Axel von Fersen, which has historically been a point of contingency among scholars. I was also quite surprised that the scandal of Marie being thought to be a lesbian (although untrue) wasn’t more prominent. There is some exploration of shojo-ai in the series, and this would have been an good opportunity for it, especially between Marie and Oscar.

I feel it comes up enough for a kids manga. During Jeane’s trail for her involvement in the affair of the necklace she mentions that her, Oscar, and Duchess Julie de Polignac were Maire Antoinette’s lovers and when she is on the run she writes memories that surely bring up their fictional affair. Marie Antoinette does dote on Oscar enough that it seems like a good avenue for shojo-ai but they mainly stick to the traditional love triangle with Fersen. Rosalie and her sister seem to have less than platonic feelings for Oscar throughout the series.

I think the view of Marie Antoinette is interesting. They really play up the innocence of her actions and also how naive and childlike she is. She becomes a sympathetic character who actual history hasn’t been too kind to. However, when you watch you can trace just about everything that happens back to her selfishness. But that is what happens when a spoiled child becomes the queen of a country.

They don’t pull punches in making you occasionally want to slap some good sense into Marie Antoinette. If anyone gets the short end of the stick, it’s definitely Louis XVI. He appears often enough at the very beginning of the series but soon disappears to the occasional guest appearance.

But Oscar is our main character and a very good one at that. Raised as a boy since birth, and taught the art of fencing and other combat, she comes to a crossroads at the age of 14. She can guard the new princess or she turn back to womanhood (although I don’t think Oscar actually feels that is an option). The only thing I feel is thoroughly unbelievable, is how readily everyone accepts this woman acting like a man. And taking a position as captain of the royal guard. But suspension of disbelief for the stories sake.

Well, I think it was best summed up with the line, “Oscar you more manly than a man.” Oscar is manlier than every shonen fighting lead combined and at least as mainly as Kenshiro or Hiko Seijuro, and that is some pretty high praise. Guts is manlier than Oscar but NO ONE is manlier than Guts.

Yes she is rather amazing. Always chivalrous and brave and beautiful and intelligent and valiant and strong and talented and and and! She puts every male character in this series (and possibly all other shows) to shame. And all of the side characters are enamored with it: Andre, Rosaile, all the ladies at court. That is okay though because I think everyone watching the series is rather in love with her, too.

I did not notice it at first, but you also mentioned several times throughout the series that Andre seem to be able to come, go, and do pretty much what ever he wants despite being a servant unless the story requires him to be restricted in some way. At the same time, they make a big deal about Rosaile having to pretend she is noble to get away with certain things whenever she is around.

The Duke du Orleans is a brilliant villain, never scene without that evil glint in his eye. Historically he was known to always be sticking his nose in everything, always in the thick of it as it were. And this story is no different, you’d think he started the French Revolution completely on his own! Robespierre who? And Jeane, whoa, that woman is crazy! But to be fair, history paints a very similar picture of her. And lets not forget Saint Just, who doesn’t appear till much later. In Rose of Versailles, people who are evil are like the most evilest people ever. Although, they only seem to pop up randomly and then never appear for years at a time.

It’s not like Duke Evil moustache shoots children in the back…oh wait he does. And one bit of advice to anyone living in Rose of Versailles France, don’t ever take on a secret job assignment. The minute you finish a secret job someone pops out of nowhere and kills you to make sure you never talk. Just place a sign in the front of your store stating that you only take public contracts. I feel that the author is a little kinder to the female villains. She tends to try to humanize them and give reasons for the female villains of the show like Jeane and Madame du Barry being as horrible people as they are. The women in Rose of Versailles are just as horribly evil as the men (if not more so) but they are given some sort of motivation for their horrible behavior. The bad men in Rose of Versailles are just bad to the bone because they are bad dudes. She never tries to humanize the Duke Orleans and the Duke Guemenee.

Rose of Versailles doesn’t expect you to be a history buff to enjoy it either. I think you can tell the show was made for a mixed audience, so you won’t feel left behind by anything if your French history isn’t up to snuff. Although, the incredibly obvious foreshadowing can be laughable at times. The is serious time skipping going on, clearly you can’t fit everything that ever happen leading to the French Revolution into a 40 episode series, so a lot of the middle years are cut out. Like when Marie is having children and what not. Also I feel the series has a shift in view from the first to the second half. The first half really has a lot of Marie and Oscar but the second half focuses solely on Oscar.

I feel the first half deals a lot with the politics of the time in the forefront and they make the relationships run in the background; although, they are intimately tied to what is going on. After the affair of the necklace it gets turned on its head and the relationships are brought to the forefront where as the politics are moved to the background. Oscar making a lot of decision involving how she feels about the court and nobles has a lot to do with it. I wonder if Riyoko Ikeda had Oscar drop out of the politics because it was the natural progression of the character or because she just tired of writing about the court.

This show is one of the few really old titles that people constantly call for to be licensed. At every convention, if you go to industry panels, you will hear it asked for at least one time. Japan loves it and so does everyone else! It is really unfortunate that it doesn’t seem very likely to happen or it would have by now. Until someone wrestles the rights away from the manga-ka we don’t have a prayer.

Well, I have the feeling it’s one of those problems where if you could throw enough money at it it would go away. The problem is the amount of money you would need throw at Rose of Versailles to get the licence would probably make it totally unprofitable. It has it’s fans in the U.S. but I’m thinking they want mainstream new show prices for a show that is old and carters to what is a niche audience in the U.S.

One thought on “The Rose of Versailles, the manliest man is really a woman!

  1. Son Gohan says:

    Versailles no Bara is one of the best anime ever created. It had a lot of success here in Italy (here it’s named “Lady Oscar”). This is one of those rare anime that mothers watch with their sons or daughters, a show so captivating that attracted more than the usual anime crowd. Kids became interested in the French Revolution just because of this show.
    The manga is awesome too, but I prefer the anime version. Shingo Araki’s chara design really brought Ikeda’s characters to life. The animation is still good almost 30 years later. It’s truely a show that resists the passage of time and a must watch for every anime fan.

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