Rose of Versailles Anime, Part 1, Disk 1 (English)

June 17th, 2013

There is no question in my mind when I call Ryoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles a classic. Historical drama is always “timeless”, but centuries after the French Revolution and decades after the debut of the anime, we are still compelled by the story of Lady Oscar Franciois de Jarjeyes and her Queen, Marie Antoinette. Now that Part 1 has been released by Nozomi/RightStuf, there are synopses and reviews all over the place, I reviewed the series once, way back in 2004. The story of the French Revolution is well-known. ^_^ I will confine myself this time to talking about the captivating and charismatic lead of the series – Oscar.

We begin the anime introduced to the peculiar circumstances of Oscar’s upbringing, raised as a boy although her sex is not a secret. With  this simple plot device, Oscar is disassociated from her predecessor, Princess Knights Sapphire. No one is being fooled by Oscar, everyone is content to take her as she appears – young, beautiful, as talented at sword fighting as any man, a natural leader who just happens to be a girl.

So, it struck me very hard that, in the first disk, both her father and Andre’ misunderstand Oscar so badly.

Her father hears Oscar reject the role of Captain of the Royal Guard and takes it as a personal insult. His argument is “Don’t you understand what you’re doing to my reputation?” But of course, she doesn’t care – and why should she? He doesn’t care about her. That much is obvious when he chooses a life and a name for her. Her father is clearly using Oscar as a pawn in his game. This is not to say he isn’t proud of her accomplishments (and, no doubt takes credit for her looks and athleticism, as well). To some extent it’s understandable that he has no idea who she is – what father knows who his 14 year old daughter is?  And so, while he completely misunderstands, even when she tells him she does not want to “babysit a girl”, he can be vaguely forgiven.

But Andre’. He has been by Oscar’s side from the time they were small. Surely he understands that Oscar is not objecting to the position or the life of a soldier, but being relegated to caretaking a *girl*? Apparently not, because as she rides away, he calls out to her, telling her that this is her last chance to regain her womanhood. I gaped at his cluelessness. But then, he’ll be clueless about a lot of things for a while yet to come.

What makes Rose of Versailles work as a story once the characters are established and they get to Versailles,  is that it is laid out with plausibility. So plausible, in fact, it came as a shock to learn how much Ikeda’s characterizations deviate from reality. I have tremendous sympathy for both Marie Antionette  and Madame du Barry and would love to see a story built around them that cast them in the roles of celebrity and CEO respectively, to see how their story might play out in the 21st century.

Speaking of 21st century, let’s look at how distance makes us see Oscar differently than she might have appeared when she debuted in the 1970s. Ikeda writes her without any recognition of the influence of the Church on things such as gender roles, but then it had been more than 300 years since Joan of Arc was killed in France and Europe was fully engaged in the Age of Reason. So the Oscar we see in the anime is a girl raised as a boy and who is both capable and competent enough to wear the privilege she has been given. At no point in time in Disk 1 does she appear to pine away for more feminine accouterments, nor does anyone attempt to shame her for her appearance or position. We, from our distance from the Revolution (and from  the original manga and anime) can look at Oscar’s adaptation of the male role and argue whether we might consider her merely cross dressing or transsexual (and later we can argue a bit about her sexuality, as well, for fun. ^_^)

What I think is plain is that Oscar, with her white uniform, represents a kind of ideal, a “pure” nobility. She believes in her word and in the social compact. The excesses and politics of Versailles repulse and bore her, but she will do everything she has to to do to do her job as well as it can be done. Here in Disk 1, the theme of “Duty” is established and this concept, more than anything else, will drive the rest of the story.

I’m reminded once again that I can only take a little of Rose of Versailles at a time. Like Oscar, I prefer to be out in the field or woods than watching court gossip. ^_^ But you know, once I started watching this story again, I’m also reminded just why it’s a classic. It’s that good.

Ratings:

Art – 8 Strongly 70s. Gotta love those eyes.
Story – 9
Characters 9
Yuri – 0
Service – 6 Even the women of the Court know Oscar’s uniforms are all service, all the time. ^_^

Overall – 8

When much of what we like in anime now is long forgotten, Rose of Versailles, and the drama of the French Revolution, will remain.

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9 Responses

  1. Cryssoberyl says:

    What I think is plain is that Oscar, with her white uniform, represents a kind of ideal, a “pure” nobility. She believes in her word and in the social compact. The excesses and politics of Versailles repulse and bore her, but she will do everything she has to to do her job as well as it can be done.

    Very much agreed. Whenever I think of a “paladin”, and what that sometimes contradictory commitment to both goodness and lawfulness is supposed to look like, act like, sound like…how such a paragon of nobility and righteousness might believably be portrayed, I invariably think of Oscar. She is the best example I know.

  2. Grisznak says:

    One of my absolutely favorite anime ever. I remeber watching it in german in the times when all I knew in german was some military commands from war movies. And I was stunning, despite of this. But this anime was really important for me. It helpled me to choose the way of my studies (I wrote about Saint Just at my magister thesis). I get all manga volumes as well.
    This series is amazing. I’m historian and I fond only one majore mistake in whole manga – bistro in XVIII century (of course, there were some changes in the character’s behavior as well). Ikeda idealized a bit Marie Antoine (because her main source of the knowledge was Zweig’s biography of the queen. This book is still very good, but author wasn’t very impartial…) but I found years after, while reading other biographies of her.
    I’d love to get this DVD, too bad it’s for americans only.

  3. Juri says:

    just wondering if those Q&A to Ms Ikeda were answered yet on RightStuf? don’t see anything on the ROV page…

  4. I have a short story Published in Tales of The Shadowmen Volume 12
    http://blackcoatpress.com/talesshadowmen12.htm

    My story is The Piano Maidens. It stars a Lesbian Couple, but another reason for me to mention it here is it has a reference to The Rose of Versailles in it.

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