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 Knight‘s 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.
Art – 8 Strongly 70s. Gotta love those eyes.
Story – 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.